A music teacher in 5th grade rigged a device so Guillermo could feel oversized musical notes, then taught him to play guitar. Guillermo became a skilled musician and song writer and played every day.
An independence skills class at Santa Clara Valley Blind Center gave him the courage to shoot higher. He eventually graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in History.
While at UCSC Guillermo advocated for access for blind, and other disabled, students. He wrote letters to book publishers, arranged for braille options at the bookstore, educated his instructors on disability resources, and helped find grants to improve technologies for disabled students on campus.
Not long after graduation Guillermo was diagnosed with cancer. He tackled treatment with patient determination and supportive friends. The cancer retreated.
In March of 2005, close to earning my M.A., I was thrilled with my progress, but felt isolated in my all-work-no-play life. A friendly post on Craigslist community pages intrigued me. A recently recovered cancer patient was seeking new friends as he regained his strength, and his future.
In our first messages I learned about his life, blindness, and taste in books. We recommended books back and forth, then he was silent. I didn’t know why, but after two messages I regretfully let it go. A week or so later I got a message. His computer had died. His cancer was back. He was sorry. He would understand if I didn’t want to write anymore.
I asked if we could talk on the phone. We met the following day, and I will be forever glad we did.
Eight months later, on November 30, Guillermo Gloria, my friend and love, died of the cancer he had fought. I held his hand.
I am sharing my story with you because accessibility is nothing less than independence and self-determination. Guillermo achieved and risked as much as he did because he was confident that he could do things for himself. Knowing he could do for himself made him able to do for others. As students learn, they move toward using what they learn to contribute. Those future contributions to the world depend on a certain confidence that can only come from doing for oneself.
I hope, as you take on the work of creating accessible materials, (and it is work, sometimes frustrating work,) you think of the individuals whose self-determination and independence you promote. No, they are not a majority. Yes, it is confounding sometimes to figure out how best to support them. But they endure much more than our other students to show up, because they have decided that learning is worth the inconvenience, frustration and extra time. And you never know whose gift to the world you are enabling. Yes, it’s accessibility to learning. But it’s also making whatever gifts they may have within, accessible to all of us.