Kate Sherry interviewed Stephanie Anderson for the Disability Visibility Project® at StoryCorps Chicago on April 11, 2015. In this clip, Stephanie talks with her friend Kate about growing up with a disability that impairs her vision. Stephanie describes what her school experiences were like, how she learned to become her own advocate, and why she decided to become a school psychologist to work with students with disabilities.
[Instrumental music: happy, upbeat, playful piano chords]
[Ambient sounds: elementary school children playing and talking on the schoolyard, then a school bell rings]
Stephanie Anderson: I wanted to work in education because I had a rough time in school. I mean I think there’s kind of two people that want to work in schools. Either they loved school or they hated school.
Stephanie Anderson: I have a visual impairment that I was born with and that no one really knew about until maybe I was about 5 years old called Stargardt’s disease and even in 4th grade when I was formally diagnosed I was legally blind. It’s a degenerative disorder. The amount of demand with reading text and the print gets smaller the older you get, all that, and I was starting, my vision was worsening at high school.
Stephanie Anderson: I had several teachers in high school that struggled with implementing the accommodations that I needed and that weren’t really sensitive to the fact that I had a disability.
[Instrumental music: acoustic guitar, repeated chord progression, a little somber or pensive but not sad]
Kate Sherry: There’s that kind of like fine line sometimes I think with teachers or educators where there is a degree to which they want to accommodate and modify things for a student to be successful, but then there’s like a tipping point of “oh, that just gives them too much of an edge or makes them, you know, have an advantage that someone else doesn’t have”. So I don’t know how you saw that in school.
Stephanie Anderson: One example I’ll give, I had a biology class. We went through the pig dissection process, which is lovely. It was something that was really hard for me to see. It was one of the first times, I said like “I can’t do this” and this is not something that’s written in my plan to specifically accommodate for pig dissection, you know, no one thought about this so I did it with a partner. We did it together, talked through it, it was fine. Then we got to the test where they had all these open pigs…
Kate Sherry: like a diagram or something…
Stephanie Anderson: They had all these open pigs around the room and a toothpick in the organ…
Kate Sherry: that sounds so terrible
Stephanie Anderson: it was nasty… a toothpick in the organ that you had to name, right, with like a letter on it. Not only could I not read the letters, I couldn’t see at all what it was pointing in. You know, I mean, I just couldn’t see it and I remember going up to the teacher and that took a lot for me. I did not go up and confront teachers very often. I said, you know, I can’t see it. I can’t do this test and as a good student I didn’t want to fail it. I basically was asking “can I do something else?” but he said “Nope, you just have to do it”.
[Instrumental music: piano music, slow solo chords, pensive tone]
Stephanie Anderson: It was the worst grade I ever got. Then I just hated the class and I didn’t want to work on it because I was not motivated by that and I didn’t like the teacher. All of it, I just didn’t like it and for that reason I got a bad grade and so that, that stuck with me
Kate Sherry: Do you think that was the first time you were really advocating for yourself in school?
Stephanie Anderson: I think so. I mean I did for little things. There was always teachers that forgot, all the time. I needed a large print test. Forty percent of the time maybe I got that in class. And then that would mean that I had to come in after school to take my test, or I had to take it in an alternate location.
Stephanie Anderson: I kind of made this conscious decision after high school. I have to tell people I have a disability, it’s my job. Those are the people I’m comfortable around, the people that know I have a disability. Because you know unlike some people that are blind, I don’t carry a cane, I don’t have a dog you know, they don’t know right away.
Stephanie Anderson: First day of school, I had to go and talk to those professors. I don’t think they were used to people with disabilities, unfortunately, getting good grades on anything. And so it was like I was like superwoman because I could pass the test. And I think that’s just something that’s out there that there is this kind of stigma that if you have a disability it means that you’re not capable of, or you’re not smart.
[Instrumental music: same acoustic guitar as before, repeated chord progression, a little somber or pensive but not sad]
Kate Sherry: What do you do now for a living?
Stephanie Anderson: I knew always that I wanted to work in education with students who had different disabilities and special needs. I work for Chicago Public Schools as a special education administrator. Before that I was a school psychologist.
Stephanie Anderson: Every day I use my experience in supporting the people working with students, and one of the big things I try to drive home is have you talk to the kid about this? Often, in school, we have these adults that make decisions for kids and no one ever consults the kid.
Stephanie Anderson: So, like, as not holding kids back, I also don’t think you should be praised extra if you’re doing well. It should just be what everyone else is getting.
[Instrumental music: happy, upbeat, playful piano chords, same music as beginning]
(“Postcards” by Scott Holmes, “Wind on my Legs” by Monplaisir, and “Associations” by Podington Bear.“) All songs and sound effects included under an Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License
Sources: freesound.org and freemusicarchive.org
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Disability Visibility Project™. (4/11/15). DVP Interview: Kate Sherry interviewed Stephanie Anderson. Retrieved from: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2017/09/24/dvp-interview-stephanie-anderson-and-kate-sherry/
A photo featuring Stephanie Anderson and Kate Sherry was taken on April 11, 2015:
Close up portrait of two women standing next to each other, smiling, with their heads touching and their arms embracing behind each other’s back. The woman on the left, Kate, has straight shoulder length red hair, is wearing a swoop neck black and white check print shirt with a black cardigan. Kate wears a long gold chain necklace with a few vibrant red accent beads. She appears to be white and has a wide smile facing direct at the camera. The woman on the right, Stephanie, has straight brown shoulder length hair, is wearing a charcoal gray swoop neck shirt and a light gray cardigan. Stephanie is wearing a choker style silver necklace with a large square iridescent pendant. Stephanie appears to be white and is also smiling widely at the camera face on.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Yosmay del Mazo and Alice Wong with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com