DENHAM SPRINGS — Victoria Landry and Melanie Key, both sixth-grade students at Denham Springs Junior High, said they would either avoid people with disabilities or treat them differently.
That was before they met Shane Smith on March 5 during a presentation at the school. Smith is a 32-year-old blind man who talked with students about his disability, the challenges he’s faced and how he’s overcome them.
“He showed us that he is no different than us,” Melanie said.
“He helped us understand that even though you have a problem, you can get through life,” Victoria said.
Smith, of Central, became blind as an infant and has undergone seven eye surgeries. He has learned to read Braille and perform a multitude of daily tasks to live a full life with his challenges, Principal Bryan Wax said.
Flanked by his parents, Smith told students he enjoys playing Wii and Nintendo games, a fact that surprised many of the students.
While he didn’t say much, he did ask students one question: “Is God with us?”
Smith assured students that he is and that when things go wrong, don’t ask why but know that “God is using you for his glory.”
After hearing Smith, sixth-grader Tré Steed, 12, was inspired to never give up on his dreams, he said.
“I feel he’s just such an inspiration,” Tré said following the presentation. “He can do everything we can do.”
The students had just finished a lesson about Helen Keller — including learning how to craft letters and words in Braille and what they mean — in English classes when Wax invited Smith to speak to them.
Smith gave the students “great insight on what it is like to live with blindness and yet still contribute to society in a way that is fulfilling,” Wax said.
“He will certainly encourage our students to make the most of the abilities they have, while being compassionate to those around them who struggle with their own challenges,” he said.
“They can read about Helen Keller, but to actually see someone alive and living it (blindness), instead of just reading about it, is a big deal,” Wax said. “Our kids get real-life experience.”
Wax said Smith’s presence also helps students understand that people with disabilities want to be treated as others without disabilities and that students don’t have to be afraid of them.
“It’s us that has to get used to them,” Wax said. “They can do so many things we can do. So we don’t have to treat people with disabilities different.”
Smith told students that while some tasks have been easy to learn, some have been difficult but that overcoming obstacles is what makes his life fulfilling.
“When you look at people and think they have handicaps, it doesn’t mean we’re different,” Smith told the students. “We just have to adapt.”
For Smith’s father, C.E. Smith, the visit was an “opportunity for me to inform the children about the world of blindness.”
“I want kids to feel comfortable around handicapped people,” he said.
Wax said the presentation, during which youths touched maps created with Braille, was part of the school’s mission to incorporate hands-on lessons where applicable.
“We’re not just learning about reading and writing,” Wax said. “We’re learning about life.”