When FSDB made the request to use JSF funds for a playground I remember thinking that a new playground would certainly be a nice thing for FSDB, but it didn’t seem very high on the priority scale for educating deaf and blind children. It was a close call, but we ultimately deferred to our grantee’s good judgment. And when Tanya suggested during our site visit that we see the playground I almost told her that it really wasn’t necessary. We only had a few hours and it was cold, but I didn’t say anything.
The playground was quite the site. Imagine an interesting, safe place for blind children to experience the physical world. Imagine a place where children can learn the consequences of a misstep or a failure to properly interpret a physical cue. This is a place where a child can stumble or fall and not suffer serious hurt or injury. It is ingenious. We watched the children play. They were in a small tactile laboratory. It was completely different from what we expected.
James, orientation and mobility instructor, hosted our tour and explained the playground. He is a former classroom teacher and is obviously a very bright penny. In order to explain the importance of the playground for the education of blind students he told us about something that happened years ago when he was teaching grade 10.
James is a baseball fan and he had a blind student that year who was absolutely nuts about the game. This kid knew every team, every player and where he came from, batting averages, on base percentages, win-loss records of every pitcher and on and on. This student made James look like a baseball novice.
One day James was sitting at his desk when the student came into the classroom to see him. James was busy and, while he waited, the student indulged his curiosity by feeling around the top of James’ desk. There was a baseball glove and a ball. After extensively and carefully feeling each of the objects the student asked James, “What are these?”
At first James could not believe that the student didn’t recognize a baseball and glove and he urged him to identify them. When he finally understood that the student really didn’t know, James was stunned. He explained the items in detail and the next day he took his student to a baseball diamond, around all of the bases, let him feel each one and took him to the infield and outfield. He is still amazed (and touched) that his grade 10 student, who seemingly knew everything about baseball, could not recognize the basic tools of the game.
This is a poignant story and instructive for us. How much do we really understand of our grantees experience? Are we like James, surprised that a blind student can’t recognize a baseball and glove? Are we like the blind student, knowing everything about baseball but not comprehending the basics of what it is to play the game?