Last week was “Disability Awareness Week” at Wilmot Elementary School, so yesterday Whitney and I took a commuter train to Deerfield, Illinois, to talk with third graders there about what it’s like to be blind and get around with a Seeing Eye dog.
The train ride to Deerfield was a long one. Whitney was so frisky when we arrived at Wilmot that she wouldn’t sit still in front of the kids. What to do?
I usually end talks with Whitney guiding me out of the classroom so the kids can see how she follows commands. Maybe this time I’d start my presentation showing the eight-and-nine-year-olds how Whitney works.
I stood up, lifted the harness, and commanded a stern “Outside!”
The kids were all sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the library rug, and Whitney threaded me safely past them to the hallway door. “Good girl, Whitney!”
The children were wowed.
Once I turned around and had Whitney lead me back to the front of the classroom, the valiant Seeing Eye dog was back to her stoic self. Guess she just needed to establish who was really the star of this show. Some of the questions the third-graders had afterwards:
- How do you eat if you can’t see?
- How do you drive?
- I know your dog knows left from right, but how do you know?
- Dogs, you know, kind of, like jump when they go up stairs, so how do you get up the stairs with your dog?
- Do you ever even get into a car?
When all my talks at Wilmot were over yesterday, I took Whitney’s harness off and let any of the interested kids come by and pet her. As Whitney flipped over and over again for belly rubs, one bashful eight-year-old approached with a question she’d been reluctant to ask in front of the entire class. “Can you see in your mind?”
If I could see to find her little hand, I would have patted it. Instead, I did my best to reassure her with words. “Oh, yes,” I smiled, picturing this wistful little waif cocking her head with wonder. “I do it all the time.”