The blind experience


The members of the blind experience club gather for their club photo for the yearbook.

Blue Brasher, Reporter

Many people take their functioning eyes for granted; they often dismiss the blessing of sight. Along with that passive bliss, many don’t realize the strength and perseverance it takes of those that are not born with the same tools as sighted people. Visually impaired individuals don’t perceive the world in the same way as most people, but they use other senses and tactics to learn and navigate the world.

There are many aspects of being blind that the average person would not be aware of: from the sheer complexity of getting around FHS to all the tools that are used in putting everyday work into accessible formats. There is so much involved in being blind, and in order to spread awareness, Jarod Friend and Mr. Estes have started a fun interactive club called The Blind Experience. During club meetings, participants will be able to walk around FHS blindfolded, get an introduction to braille, learn blind etiquette, and learn lots of other aspects of being blind.

Jarod Friend is a 9th grader and the only fully blind student at Fayetteville High School. Mr. Estes, a Vision Impairment Paraprofessional, is Jarod’s right-hand man. He makes all of Jarod’s learning material accessible to him. Mr. Estes explained further, “My job primarily is giving Jarod access to his entire school experience. That means giving him access to his lessons, giving him access to the whole school, and I also work with Jarod’s teachers about how to best prepare and design his lessons.” A lot of the time, Mr. Estes will take what is in print, and put it into braille. Other times, he will take information and put it into files that Jarod’s screen reader can then read to him. He makes sure Jarod has access to the same things all the other students do.

Although Mr. Estes works very hard to let Jarod have the best learning experience he can have, Jarod also puts in a lot of work to learn and experience at FHS. As Jarod spoke about all the processes they have to go through to make learning accessible, he said, “For me, math is our most difficult subject right now.” A lot of students can relate to this one, even if they can see. For Jarod, it is even more complicated. Mr. Estes continued, “If you’re using a screen reader for math, and it tells you the whole problem, are you going to be able to hold all that problem and steps in your head?” So instead of letting the screen reader read the problem aloud, the math problem has to be put into braille. This is yet another step blind people must take to do something as common as a math problem.

Another way Jarod shows his perseverance every day is his capability to get around the bustling, complicated halls of FHS. Jarod uses his cane and a tool called a Wheatley to find his way around FHS. The Wheatley is a velcro board that can be used to plot out maps. Jarod has a Wheatley with 3D structures of the school, and he memorizes the layout by feeling the map with his fingers. At The Blind Experience, attendees will be able to learn about the Wheatley and more tools like it.

The idea to start the club, started all the way back when Jarod was in 5th grade at Happy Hollow. Mr. Estes said, “Students were very curious about the braille Jarod was reading and producing, and so we took that curiosity as a starting point to simply introduce his classmates to braille.” The students were introduced to the alphabet, the numbers, and some basic punctuation. The club has expanded since then, and now the club offers even more learning experiences.

There are little things that people would not even think of, like how to address a blind person. When talking to a blind person, one needs to address them by name, where they know if they are being addressed. Jarod explained this struggle when he said, “For example, if Mr. E couldn’t see me, he can’t see who I’m looking at.” It is important to have an audible or physical way to let them know they are being addressed.

Even when kids are trying to be very mindful for Jarod, it can backfire. Students will often open the door for Jarod out of consideration, but it actually does not help him. Mr. Estes said, “If he’s expecting a door there, and there’s not a door, that’s confusing because he’s using it as a landmark.” When the environment is how he expects it, he is in control. There are plenty of situations like this, and the best way to learn more about it is to come to The Blind Experience.

The next club meeting will be January 26th during A&E.  It is hard for a sighted person to think beyond the world they know, and Jarod Friend and Mr. Estes are hoping to “give everyone a better understanding and appreciation of what it means to be blind.” So come to the first floor, phase 3 this Friday to take part in some fun, educational activities.




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