E-Community Activity: Randy and Proving Yourself

Send this message to the e-community of protégés and mentors.

Subject: Randy and proving yourself

Read the following story about Randy, and/or view the video presentation Taking Charge 1: Three Stories of Success and Self-Determination. Then tell our group how Randy's experiences are similar to or different from yours.

Randy does not let the jolts of life get him down. He sees the positive in people and the potential in tough situations. Blind since birth, he views obstacles as healthy challenges that provide opportunities to be creative. He sees prejudice and stereotyping as opportunities to educate. Life may be a hassle at times—frustrating, annoying, even frightening—but to Randy it is nothing less than a grand experience.

Born in the Grand Coulee Dam area of Washington State and raised in Alaska and Seattle, Randy went to a public preschool, where, at age three, he began to learn Braille. He attended general education classes throughout his schooling.

In high school he gained access to a laptop computer with speech output software, a speech synthesizer, Braille translation software, a Braille embosser (to produce Braille output), a standard printer for producing printed output for teachers and other sighted people, and the Internet. Using this technology, he read a newspaper independently for the first time in his life. His computer system allowed him to access information and compose papers without the assistance of a sighted person. He attended The Evergreen State College and graduated in a computer field. Randy says his "biggest challenge today is dealing with the ever-growing amount of graphics presented on the World Wide Web and software applications." When software designers use text alternatives to information presented in graphics, he works independently; otherwise, he needs a sighted person to help him.

Though Randy struggled socially in school, his greatest challenges came from teachers, not peers: "You've got to prove that you can do the same stuff as the others, show the teachers that you are able to work in their class successfully. This was my biggest challenge, not from the students. To them, you're just another kid." Randy felt that he had to constantly "prove" his worth—not in relation to performing a specific task but simply because he couldn't see. Randy realized he was going to have to work very hard to find the right kind of job for himself and, even then, likely have to fight to get beyond the stereotypes: "I still have to prove to them that I can do the job."

After graduating with a degree in computer science and networking, Randy secured a job as a help-desk analyst, handling technical computer questions from customers around the United States. Randy credits his parents as the primary motivators in his life: "If I came home with a grade that was lower than expected, I would hear about it. I was expected to get that grade up. And if it didn't go up, well, there were consequences. I was treated like everybody else. That instilled in me a drive to succeed."

They also encouraged him to be independent, to make his own choices and then to learn from the consequences of his choices. "My parents' main goal was to make me as much like any other kid as possible. I did social things with other kids. When I was in high school, I had a lot of the same problems with my parents that a lot of kids have, like 'I want to go out.' 'Well, you can't go out.' Not we don't want you to go out because you have this disability, but because you're supposed to do this work. But at other times, they would say, 'Hey, go out with your friends. Do stuff socially.' They were very open to that. And because I was mainstreamed all through school, I was used to having social interaction with other people."