First lady cheers on student athletes who are blind and visually impaired
While friends and families cheered from the sidelines, about 130 students who are blind or visually impaired participated in a track and field meet that first lady Trudi Inslee attended Thursday. The event took place at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver and included athletes who ranged in age from about 5 to 21 years old.
While the bulk of students traveled from Washington, some traveled from other parts of the Northwest and Oregon to compete, participate and network with each other.
The first lady said the event was an appropriate highlight of the student’s accomplishments.
“The student athletes from today are such an inspiration to all of us as they overcome challenges, enjoy competition, build teamwork and — most of all — have fun,” Inslee said. “Thank you for sharing your day with us.”
Scott McCallum, Washington State School of the Blind superintendent, said the power of the event comes from a student or child (who is blind or visually impaired) knowing they are not alone.
“There’s something really special about knowing there are other kids like you and that you’re not alone in some of the challenges that you face,” McCallum said as he choked up. “So, when you go down to the WSSB it’s almost like you can forget about this, because everyone else identifies with it.”
Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib toured the school last week and visited with WSSB students.
“As a teenager, I myself participated in their track and field meet where I learned the transformative power of athletics, just like today’s competitors,” Habib said. “Events like this give blind kids an opportunity to prove to themselves and others that their bodies are a source of strength, not weakness. I commend all of the young people participating in this year’s competition. I’d also like to thank Mrs. Inslee for showing her support for these young athletes by attending this year’s event.”
In 2013, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order that helps recognize the long-term difficulties faced by people who are blind and visually impaired, as well as people with life-long disabilities. The order focused on ensuring greater representation of people with disabilities in state government employment.
Inslee also signed a 2014 executive order that established a state interagency coordinating council for infants and toddlers with disabilities. This helped promote education and opportunity for affected youth.
In recent years, the governor signed budgets that helped students who were blind or visually impaired by increasing access to Braille technology. Inslee is scheduled to sign a budget next week that provides funds for additional resources at the school, which included a licensed social worker position at WSSB. The social worker will address specific needs related to living with a visual impairment and general mental health.
The budget also provides funds for a licensed social worker at the Washington Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth, formerly known as the Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss.
McCallum said many children who are blind or visually impaired typically experience multiple, concurrent disabilities. He shared an example of a student with autism who is also blind. For that student, social situations like a track meet can feel overwhelming. During the track and field meet, they may take part in other activities like swimming in the school pool or hitting the library to read so they feel less stimulated.
For most of the track meet attendees, their focus is on track events and competition. Runners who are blind often need to rely on a running buddy to be a guide. WSSB has a specialized track that provides more independent running options.
“A bar wraps around our large track so students can run independently and not have to run with a guide,” McCallum said. “For sprinting, we set up these long wires that are thick. We put a baton around the wire and students can hear when they’re close to the end so they can run independently.”
McCallum said this day, in so many ways, is a day of celebration.
“You get that freedom of choice to shoot for the stars and be a sprinter for the day or a long jumper,” he said. “There’s something special about that.”
The first lady talked with dozens of students throughout the event and heard some of their stories, including a student named Chloe who competed and who wants to be a singer.
“I’m so glad to be in Clark County today among these young students,” the first lady said. “Being around these athletes is inspiring and it showcases the best of Washington.”