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Goodwill Vision Enterprises Growth Mindset Panel

Feb 29, 2024

Young adults and community partners discuss the unique experiences of blind and visually impaired youth as they transition through high school, college, and the workforce.

From Right: The youth panelists: Braiden, Aidan, Jade, Abbie, and Brenna (joining remotely on the screen), Tammy Suits, NYSCB Children’s Counselor for Rochester & Buffalo, Lindsay Murphy is the Disabilities Resource Coordinator for RochesterWorks!, and Dana Webb, NYSCB Transition Age Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for Rochester & Buffalo.

On Saturday, February 24th, a panel of impressive young adults who are legally blind, and three valuable community partners, came together at Goodwill Vision Enterprises (GVE) to talk about experiencing high school, preparing for college, and going to work. The five young adults on the panel, Abbie, Aidan, Braiden, Brenna, and Jade discussed their experiences along with two consultants from the NYS Commission for the Blind who gave pointers about how they guide young people through these important milestones, and a Disability Resource Coordinator from RochesterWorks! who spoke about support opportunities at the Career Center available for free to everyone in the community.


The youth portrayed that although living with a disability is not easy, they have not let it keep them from being students of excellence, engaged in diverse extra-curricular activities, and finding joy in their lives.  They spoke openly and honestly about how they grew into a level of self-awareness that allowed them to be brave enough to take risks even when they were uncertain, accept help when it was needed, and to defeat the low expectations that people may have of them. “Being different is hard,” said Jade, a high school senior who was born with albinism that has affected her pigmentation and eyesight. “It’s hard when you have to use different technology than everyone else.” Speaking specifically about chemistry class, Jade held up her own very large print copy of a periodic table and explained, “I would use an enlarged reference table. I was hesitant and embarrassed at first, because it was a little different, but it’s what I needed to learn the material.” Jade continued with a sly smile, “And guess what? The rest of my class was always coming to me for help.”


Jade also spoke about how she deals with people pitying her for her disability. “People will come up to me and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry for you!’ And I don’t know how to react,” she said. “It doesn’t feel good when people stare, but it comes down to the fact that they are curious. And I get that.” Abbie, a completely blind freshman at LeMoyne College, added, “It’s hard for people to contemplate how we live. It’s important to just let those awkward moments roll off your back. Don’t take the doubts that people have to heart.”


The panelists were impressive, poised, and clearly determined to encourage the younger students in the audience to heed their advice.  “This world was not built for people like us, so it’s up to us to find different ways of doing things to reach our goals and to overcome the barriers that are all around us,” said Abbie, who is a singer, songwriter, and recorded performer with the duo Shades who can be heard on Spotify and seen at local venues. Aidan, who recently graduated from Finger Lakes Community College with an associate degree in communications, spoke directly to the youth in the audience about how important it is to learn from his mistake: don’t wait- begin to advocate for yourself now.  Aidan has his own podcast devoted to NFL and Buffalo Bills called “Around the Slice” and he is currently performing an exciting internship with the RIT Athletic Department.


Brenna, a sophomore at Bringham Young University in Utah, joined the panel via Zoom to discuss how she performed an internship at the Creative Workshop at the Memorial Art Gallery, where she assisted in the ceramic classes, and then worked at guiding visitors to fully engage in exhibits at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Jade, who is passionate about biology and chemistry, enthusiastically detailed her internship at the Wayne Newark Community Hospital and the adjacent Senior Living Center. She candidly shared how she boldly advocated for herself to get the chance to shadow scientists in the hospital laboratory, and actually caught something in one of the tests that the lab technician had originally missed. Braiden, a freshman at SUNY Brockport who is totally blind, emphasized that he values how being able to work without a paraprofessional’s direct assistance takes making an intentional choice- you may not do everything well at first, but you learn with each misstep that you can do things for yourself if you give yourself the chance to try. He proudly detailed how he learned to live more independently by attending six weeks of residential vision rehabilitation training at the Carroll Center in Boston, MA. He wowed the audience with his stories of how he learned woodworking and found a passion for fencing! He said, “Fencing taught me Orientation and Mobility skills. I had to use my listening skills to find where my opponent was to be able to stick him with my sword!”


When asked what they wish they had done differently in high school to prepare for college and employment, Braiden shared, “I would have advocated for myself a lot more.” Providing more insight, Joette, the Career Development Specialist here at Goodwill Vision Services, added “What often happens with high school students who have visual impairments is that the aides provide so much well-intended support at school that, when school ends, and that level of support is suddenly gone, the individual is left unprepared to face the world self-sufficiently.” She adds, “Sighted or unsighted, our young people have to learn from messing up.”


The panelists stressed that self-advocacy is especially important in college. “The support is available, but YOU have to reach out to THEM. They won’t come to you,” said Braiden of the Disability Services Office at college. Brenna also added, “Reach out to them early. Don’t wait!”  This was seconded by the NYS Commission for the Blind Counselors who advised, “Reach out to them before the school year starts so they have time to prepare and get any assistive technology you might need.” Abbie also added, “Even before you choose your college, you should see what their disability supports look like. This was a huge deciding factor in my college choice.” The panelists strongly emphasized that students should proactively use the supports that are offered so that they set themselves up to be confident, prepared, and independent. “I waited until my second year of college to take advantage of the Disability Services Office, and I noticed an improvement in my grades after I started using them,” said Aidan.


There is still work to do to make our community spaces more inclusive, and this is one of the goals of Goodwill Vision Services. “We want to know, where in the community do you NOT go because it is not accessible?” said JoBeth Rath, Director of Workforce Development and Vision Services.  “The staff here at GVE can advocate for you! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.” In April, GVE staff and a group of blind young people are partnering with the Strong Museum to help them learn how to make the museum visit a more universally accessible experience. GVE is hoping this effort will inspire similar partnerships with other community venues.  “We want this community to be accessible and welcoming,” said JoBeth Rath.


In reflecting on the insights shared by the panelists at GVE’s Growth Mindset Panel, it is clear that resilience, self-advocacy, and community engagement are fundamental when navigating the challenges faced by individuals with visual impairments. Their candid narratives not only shed light on the barriers they face, but also emphasized the importance of embracing differences and leveraging available resources. The young adults on this panel are just a few examples of individuals with disabilities breaking barriers and achieving their dreams, all while educating their communities and lifting others up. As we move forward, let’s help them continue to work towards a world where every individual, regardless of ability, can thrive!


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