An Interview with Jenny
Hi, everyone. I’m Jenny Suchanjk. I’m 18 years old, and I’m a senior at Winston Churchill High School. I have been fully mainstreamed ever since kindergarten. I lost all of my vision when I was two. My main interest is music, and I plan to be a music major in college.
What classes have helped you mature as a young adult?
In freshmen year, I took honors chemistry. Besides being a really good chemistry class, the teacher made it clear that she had high expectations for all students, including me. The teacher insisted that I participate in all course activities, including the lab experiments. And when I took the initiative to seek her help during lunch—especially about the visual concepts—she was more than willing to oblige. Taking this class freshman year was very beneficial because it smoothed out significantly the transition between middle school and high school—because it was almost like a rude awakening. The message was the stakes are high, and this is how I need to act and especially, for me—having a disability—I need to be able to integrate into the sighted world, and if the sighted students are managing this rigorous workload and advocating for themselves, that’s exactly what I need to do.
All this being said, I believe that nothing is more important to academic success and achievement than skills for adaptive technology. I think this is what really levels the playing field for a blind student. Right now, I’m reading my notes on my BrailleNote. I also use JAWS on my computer, Kurzweil 1000 for scanning print documents, and MathTrax, which is a graphing calculator program that describes and sonifies graphs of equations that I type in, and this has especially been helpful in my Algebra II and my Pre-Calculus classes. For my advanced placement music theory class, I used Goodfield Software, which allows me to scan, compose, edit, and emboss music. And I really love my Victor Reader Stream.
What do you feel you are good at and why? How did you learn these skills?
Well, as I said, my first love was music. I’ve been playing the piano ever since I was three, and I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. My teachers have told me that I have perfect pitch, and I have been doing very well in my AP Music Theory Course. I also enjoy my math courses. I’m now in Honors Calculus. The orderliness and structure of mathematics really appeals to me. I also have a great facility for languages. I’ve taken Spanish ever since third grade, and I got a 5 on my AP Spanish Language test last year.
What have you done to look at careers you may be interested in pursuing?
When I was interested in science a few years ago, I went on the AFB’s CareerConnect website, and I got in contact with a blind chemist. He told me about the adaptive technologies that he has been using for his job and the hours of his job and what it entails. As far as my current interests in music and possibly psychology, I have not really had any personal internships regarding those fields, but I do know that music therapists work a lot with stroke victims, autistic children, and people who need some kind of rehabilitation through music. And in fact, music therapy is definitely a career that I’m interested in pursuing because it will incorporate my interests in music and psychology.
Have you visited any foreign country, and if so, what did you learn?
I, in fact, in the summer of 2006, visited France for the first time. I participated in a perfume making program#8212;a workshop—a science/chemistry type workshop sponsored by L’Occitane en Provence and the American Foundation for the Blind, and it was a very#8212;it was a sensational workshop. It was four days of absolutely wonderful experiences. There were four American students and one French student, and not only did I pick up smatterings of French words from time to time, I got to make potpourri and hand lotion and perfume in a workshop held in an old monastery, and the perfume making was under the guidance of a blind perfumer. And to add to the beauty and to the smells of it all, outside of this monastery there were many lavender fields. And I got to be immersed in the smells of not only the perfumes, potpourris, and different effects like that; I got to also smell lavender. And it’s just wonderful to not only learn about the history of these smells but also to really smell them so you can get the whole picture.
What sports or recreation do you do in your free time?
As far as sports, I really don’t participate in too many. I swim in the summer whenever I have time, but I’m not really committed to any athletic pursuit. However, when I do exercise, I enjoy doing yoga and Pilates. And as far as watching shows, I really love American Idol and now the season is really heating up.
What have been your favorite orientation and mobility lessons and why? What have these new skills taught you?
I believe orientation and mobility provides empowerment and creates self-confidence. I have been taking O&M lessons ever since kindergarten. Ever since sixth grade, my O&M lessons extended to outdoor activities such as street crossing, shopping, and the use of public transportation. This gave me a greater sense of awareness regarding my community. Most recently, my O&M lessons have incorporated a handheld GPS device, and I think this will be a big help when I go off to college next year.
Being a senior and knowing what you know now, are there things you wish your teachers or parents had done differently to support you in becoming an independent young adult?
My teachers and parents are both marvelous. With one exception, none of my teachers had ever taught a totally blind student before. This is inevitable in a mainstream curriculum; however, they have all done an excellent job integrating me into their classrooms and for having the message pervade throughout that I can do the exact same work as the sighted students. I may do it in a slightly different way, but I can—I have the ability to learn the exact same material that the sighted students do.
Also, my vision and mobility teachers have been absolutely outstanding in helping me acquire the skills for independence that I need for these areas. And most importantly, my parents were my first teachers. They first helped me deal with my disability. Learning to crawl and to walk, which are almost automatic skills for a sighted child, took an immense amount of effort on the part of my parents. If there is one negative at all it would be the lack of time for functional life skills. The demand of my school work has not left much time for me to acquire many of the functional life skills that I know that I will need—such as laundry and housekeeping.
What activities do you participate in during physical education?
I took physical education sophomore year, and the first semester I took aerobics. That was a pretty hard class for me because of all the movement. When my teacher could, she did one-on-one help with me, but she couldn’t do that always because she has probably 29 other students to attend to. However in the second semester, I took body toning and that class was a lot easier for me in general with the exercising, but in addition, I had the help of a vision teacher from the county who came in and helped me with some of the moves. And she actually was very experienced with that exercising, so it was—it was very beneficial because in case the teacher was busy, I could still have some one-on-one help.
What modifications are made in PE for you specifically?
As far as specific modifications, the only one that I can think of is when I go running; somebody would run with me, or I would have—somebody would have that tether type system and just hold that so I’d run in a straight line and keep oriented.
What do literacy skills mean to you?
As far as braille literacy, I have been reading braille ever since kindergarten, and I use braille even know, especially for mathematics. It is a great leveler because it’s basically the print, but it’s in dot-form. It’s in tactile form. Especially for something special like math, it’s an extreme help. In my early years in my math classes, my mother who is a Library of Congress certified braillist transcribed into print all of my braille math homework that I have done and that has been a wonderful asset to me because not only did I get my work in print, but also my mom—the fact that she was so committed and dedicated to learning the braille, and she wanted to know what I was doing. That really—that really touched me, and I was glad that she was very much into that part of my life.
However, that being said about braille, I believe that I am primarily an auditory learner for everything else that I do. If I need to listen to an English book or I need to listen to a passage real quick, it’s very beneficial for me to have an audio format and listen to it on audio. My BrailleNote—which I mentioned earlier—has the ability for braille and speech output. So, for—I could turn one on, turn one off, and I can have the option of what I use. When I listen on—for example, to a book on the BrailleNote—I can stop the speech output reading of it at any time and check the braille display; for example, to see how something is spelled, so I have all those options at my disposal.
On the subject of the BrailleNote, as far as math is concerned, Up until about eighth grade, I have been doing math exclusively on the Perkins Brailler, and now, I write all of my math on my BrailleNote. I have all my classes on my note taker, so it’s given me a lot of ease of—you know—organization and options for all my academic classes.
Another piece of technology, exclusively audio, that has helped me is my Victor Reader Stream. Not only can I listen to text-to-speech files, but I can also listen to recorded lectures from my classes and also talking books—human recorded talking books—such from RFB and D, Council for the Blind and Dyslexic, and National Library Service. In addition, with anything I listen to on my Stream, I can insert different types of bookmarks. I can insert a regular bookmark. I can insert a bookmark with an audio recording, or I can select a passage where I can insert a highlight bookmark, which I can highlight a certain passage—for example, a poem, a few lines of a poem, I’d have to memorize or an important quote I want to copy down for an essay. The Victor Reader Steam has really been a phenomenal advanced portable tool that has helped me a lot—especially this year, senior year. I received it last summer. I’ve been using it all senior year, and I believe that it’s going to be a wonderful asset for me in college.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Well, I want to say that I’m very honored to be here and to talk about my experiences and the different challenges that I go through and the different ways that I do things. And I think, in a lot of ways, I am like any sighted student. I have a great engaging personality. I have a great variety of interests. And I believe that whatever I do, I’m sure that I’ll someday find the career and the niche that will really help me succeed.