As a paraprofessional in the Vision Education Services Chapter, which serves about 900 blind and visually impaired students citywide, Lucio Medina acts as a guide and advocate for the students he supports.
What drew you to working with visually impaired students?
I grew up in the service industry and I’ve had pretty much every single job you can do in a restaurant, from busing tables and washing dishes to being a manager and owner. But my wife has been in the vision education field for 22 years as an orientation and mobility specialist. I saw how rewarding her work was. About six years ago, my wife said, “There’s an opening in our department and we need paraprofessionals,” and I fell in love with the field right away.
I love the things we teach — independence, self-advocacy, making the world more accessible to visually impaired students. I started out volunteering with grownups who are visually impaired, and I saw how detrimental it could be if they reached adulthood and hadn’t attained certain skills, how isolated and lonely they could be. Now I can help kids establish the foundation they need.
As a paraprofessional, you work one on one with a single student. What’s that like?
We aren’t school-based; we’re department-based with Vision Education Services, so we stay with our students for years. My current student is a 2nd-grader. I started with her in pre-K and I could go with her to middle school and high school. She’s the best. She’s super smart and already using advanced assistive technology. Every day is an adventure with her.
Your student also works with an orientation and mobility specialist and a teacher of visually impaired students. What makes your role as a paraprofessional unique?
My supervisor likes to say that you don’t want to create “Mr. Magic,” where a kid wants something and it appears. So my role is to be as descriptive as possible without being intrusive and encourage independence whenever possible.
When we’re transitioning from one class to another, I’ll say, “Do you remember the route? Use your cane skills and tell me how to get to math class.” The cane can pick up everything below waist level — above that, I might come in to help. If there’s an obstacle, I want to give her enough notice but not necessarily tell her where it is, like “There’s a fire extinguisher coming up.”
People are surprised that social skills are also part of our curriculum. My student didn’t know that when someone says good morning, you should say good morning back. And it’s also about letting the person speaking to my student know, “Say her name when you greet her.”
How do you as a sighted person learn how to guide visually impaired students?
As part of my program at Hunter College to become a teacher of visually impaired students, I’ve done “blindfold training” and used a cane. I felt how heavy the cane can get after moving it. There’s a rhythm to cane usage. We remind students to move their canes side to side and make sure it matches their stride and to switch hands if they’re fatigued — we encourage ambidexterity.
What would you want others to know about working with blind and visually impaired students?
Have respect for their space and their things. It’s amazing how people think it’s OK to grab our students and take them somewhere. Nobody likes that, but imagine not being able to see where it’s coming from.
People should announce themselves — don’t think that because a student is blind, they don’t know you’re in the room. They know.
With my current student, recess has always been the most challenging because kids aren’t naturally patient. It’s a great opportunity to teach the other students social-interaction skills, like, “Don’t take that jump rope out of her hand; respect her cane.” Then, by the time they’re teenagers, they’ve learned empathy and compassion and patience.
— As told to reporter Rachel Nobel