Role Models and Mentors for Visually Impaired Teens
Rachel, a high school freshman with low vision, wasn’t at all happy when she found out that her best friend, Liz had been invited to the movies by Beth and she hadn’t. As they talked about it, Liz said, “Well maybe Beth figured you can’t see the screen, so she didn’t ask you.” That really made Rachel mad! It seemed that no one understood her vision problem—not her friends, not her parents, not her teachers.
No matter how close you and your child are, there may be times when she feels the need to have someone else to talk to or learn from in her life. An older teen or an adult who’s visually impaired may be just the right person to act as a role model or mentor for your child. In turn, your child might become a role model or mentor for a younger child with a visual impairment.
Sharing experiences with another visually impaired person can help your child understand that she’s not alone, that others have had similar feelings to hers. Equally important, a role model can demonstrate that having a visual impairment doesn’t prevent someone from being an active, successful person. Your child may be impressed and learn from any of the following:
- A college student she is introduced to who lives in a dorm on campus, shops for her own clothes, and participates in several extracurricular activities.
- The high school senior in her school who’s popular, gets top grades, and uses a variety of assistive technology. Just observing that person might help your child get over any reluctance she may be feeling about using low vision devices or assistive technology tools because she’s afraid they’ll make her seem different.
- A classmate who travels around the city using public transportation. Talking with that person could help your daughter realize that her orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor really does have a reason for teaching her to cross intersections using her cane.
Mentors are often role models who take on the additional role of supporting your child in developing new skills. For example, the high school senior who uses a range of assistive technology may teach your daughter how to use a screen reading program, while encouraging her to use the technology she already has. Sometimes mentors are sounding boards, giving their input and advice. If Rachel talked to an older visually impaired student about her feelings when she wasn’t asked to go to the movies, that mentor might suggest asking Beth and Liz to go to a movie with her and explain that they might not know she likes going to movies, even though she can’t see the screen clearly, unless she tells them so. Your child’s mentor may also have been left out of something because of her visual impairment and can tell your daughter how she dealt with her feelings.
Your child can also learn about jobs and careers that visually impaired people are involved in by meeting adults who are employed. The CareerConnect website is one tool you and your child might find helpful to explore. This site helps young people with visual impairments meet mentors who are working in areas that may be of interest to them. If your child wants to know more about a specific career area, and you’re unable to find a visually impaired person who works in that field, helping her find a mentor, even if the person is not visually impaired, can provide her with support and encouragement.
There are many communities that have weekend or summer programs for young people who are visually impaired. Talk with your child about whether she’d like to participate in a program where she’ll meet others with visual impairments while having fun and learning new things. Your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments may be able to recommend a program. Other possible sources of information are your state department of education or your state rehabilitation agency.
It’s also important that your child recognize the importance of giving back to others. Encourage her to be a role model for younger children with visual impairments or other disabilities. Remind her how much she looked up to her own role models and help her see that she can be a role model too. Becoming involved in a mentor relationship can be an enriching experience and a deeply meaningful one as well.