Brendan is the president of the senior class at Perkins School for the Blind and will be the graduation speaker in June. He recently met with us to talk about the active role he has taken in his own transition experience.
How long have you been at Perkins?
I have been a student here for 5 and ¼ years. I first started coming through Outreach programs when I was 8 years old and I enrolled in the school the last quarter of 8th grade. I came here from a public school and the change was like night and day. It is so great to have teachers who understand what I need and who know how to make the accommodations. I also feel totally accepted here. In my old school I felt left out a lot.
What kind of work experience have you had at Perkins?
I have had so many different jobs that I don’t think I can even remember them all. Some of the ones I have done are Cradles to Crayons, Franklin Park Zoo, YMCA Child Watch, Perk Café, and Perkins Trust. My favorites have been YMCA, Perk Café, Zoo, and Mass Eye and Ear. I like jobs where I can be social and talk to people. I am very outgoing and easy to get along with. I really liked Mass Eye and Ear because I could talk to the doctors and nurses when they all came to the cafeteria. We chatted during lunch.
Tell us about your experience at the vending site on Hanscom Air Force Base.
I did some job shadowing of a person who is visually impaired who runs two sandwich and convenience stores at Hanscom Airforce Base through Massachusetts Vending Facilities Program. I job shadowed with him 3 times. I got to cut deli meat on the professional meat slicer, fill orders for customers and stock supplies. I learned things from him about how I can do the job and what kind of things you need, like an iPad, so I can calculate prices, a talking register, and a bar code reader.
How have your work experiences helped to build your confidence?
At first I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. Would I look appropriate? Would I know what to do? I got some tips from my job coach and repetition and practice helped a lot. Over time you build up confidence.
How did you learn advocacy skills?
I have learned to ask for help and I am good at that now. When I have problems at work, I speak up. Sometimes the environment can make it difficult to speak up. For example, I am taking a class at Bunker Hill Community College. At first I was very quiet, but now I have built up the confidence to talk to the professor to ask questions about content and about accommodations. When midterms come up, we talk about contacting the disabilities office, and I go and talk to them at least a week in advance.
Tell us how you learned to run your own ITP (Individual Transition Planning) meeting.
I have been to many IEP meetings, but I used to be a quiet person in those meetings. At first my voice cracked, but then I built up my skills. I learned to answer questions that were directed to me, instead of my teacher answering them for me. My advice to other students is to start by being quiet to learn how the meetings work, and if you want, you can add your input. After 4 or 5 meetings, then you can start to answer if you know what to say.
How did you become your own guardian?
When I turned 18 my parents explained how it works. Now I know what I have to do, like fill out my own paperwork. I have to answer some of the questions, but not all of them. I have to ask people to read documents before I’m going to sign them. For example, I had to sign a form for a study this week and I wanted them to read the whole thing. I didn’t want them just to tell me what something is about, but to read it word for word.
What do you plan to do after graduation?
I’m going to go back home to Connecticut to talk to the state rehab counselor about job placements through the Randolph-Sheppard Act that supports the Business Enterprise Program in all states. Under this act, the blind and visually impaired get the first crack at operating vending facilities on federal property. I would like to run my own café.
Congratulations to Brendan on his graduation! We wish him all the best in the future.