Opal Goes to High School (again)

Yesterday, Opal and I went back to Citadel High school in Halifax. Our purpose this time was to introduce the 2008  Writing contest which AEBC Halifax (Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians) is hosting with 100 grade 10 students. The last time we visited Citadel, it was final exam time in June. There wasn’t much of anything going on then, except that a handful of kids,  bleary-eyed from all-night studying were getting bummed out about their exams.   A few others were in a tizzy because Security had  hacked off their locks and cleaned out their lockers.  Yesterday was a totally different scenario. In a word, CHAOS!  We handily found our way to the familiar ‘office’. The staff were helpful and made photocopies of some handouts for me. We sat next to a funked-out kid in trouble waiting to see one of the vice-principals.  Opal and I listened to the bedlam in the halls.  Announcements (both for students and teachers) are constantly being cranked out.  Each one is preceded by an alarming ‘alert’ tone, which is reminisant of something you would hear on a submarine …or in a prison. Maybe it was the added destinations in the announcements…”…meeting in ‘D’  block”  that made me think of this.  I ate my tuna sandwich and took in the conversations students were having with the staff…”I DID bring a note signed by a parent, so why am I marked missing?”  “My class is supposed to be in room 208 in ‘D’ block, but they’re not there!”   Today, we were back to meet Marjorie, an English teacher who asked me to introduce the Writing Contest and speak to her class about blindness. She seemed her usual harried self when she arrived.  As we gathered my photocopies, I noticed someone had stopped to pat and talk to Opal. “Don’t touch my dog please, she’s working”, I said automatically. They continued,  oblivious to my words.  I said, “Hey, don’t touch my dog”.  This is when Marjorie introduced me to the offender, Kam the principal of Citadel High. I grinned but  offered no appology. Instead I gave her one of the handouts on Guide dogs. Marjorie and I found our way to the staff lunch room on the 2nd floor where I was to wait for “the kids to settle down from lunch”.  A teacher walked in and screamed, apparently terrified at the sight of Opal. This happens occasionally.  Five  minutes later, we bumped into the same teacher as we entered  a doorway into a lunchroom alcove. He screamed again. This time, I grinned. Opal shrugged off his scream, disregarded him and guided me, as she is supposed to. Our visit with the kids was great. The contest will have them writing about what they think their world would be like without sight.  We talked about blindness too. Questions?  Sure. “How do audible traffic signals work?” When I mentioned blind sports, the restless, surly  kid in the front (I’m guessing Marjorie parks him there to keep an eye on him) blurted out his question, “Is there blind basketball?”.   I told him I didn’t know, but that Goal ball is a huge blind sport,  even a Para Olympic sport. We talked about accessible technology and devices.  I asked them to take out their cell phones. Most of these 36 kids have one and were eager to break the ‘no cell phone in class’ rule.  I urged them to resist actually dialing, but to imagine trying to use it to text message or call, if they could not see. “I can’t feel the keypad or see the display”, some girl complained. “That’s my point”,  I said. Most of the hundreds of models of cell phones,  MP3 players etc are totally impossible to use if you are blind.  As always, the majority of questions were about guide dogs.  Time flew by and soon Marjorie was giving me the hook. We got a round of applause and then Opal and I were escorted out before the buzzer and the ensuing stampede of kids by a pair of girls (teenage girls always travel in pairs, even in 2008). Opal and I managed to get home without causing anyone else to scream.


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