Riccardi Elementary School students in Bonnie Brown’s Grade 4 reading classes received a firsthand account about overcoming adversity recently when Matthew Brown, a blind teacher, visited the school to speak about his experiences as a visually impaired person. Mr. Brown was accompanied by Tanner, his seeing-eye dog.
Prior to the visit, students participated in a Zoom conversation with Mr. Brown, who is Ms. Brown’s brother. The teacher and students also read and discussed the book The Kid Who Saved Superman, which features a prominent character based on Mr. Brown.
A few years ago, one of Mr. Brown’s students at P.S. 36, a New York City public school where he is an English Language Arts and math teacher, won a national writing contest that tasked students with describing a “real hero at their school.” The winning entry, by 13-year-old Hakeem Bennett, was used as inspiration for the character.
Bennett wrote, “My teacher Mr. Brown is visually impaired. That’s not what makes him a hero. It is because he takes public transportation everyday with Stanley, his dog, to school. That is why he is a true, everyday superhero.”
Bennett explains, “To ride the train in Brooklyn is chaotic and not the safest even for people who do not have a disability.” Bennett goes on to say, “Traveling in the snow and ice with Stanley makes him even more courageous.”
Brown, who was born blind, spoke about the many hardships he faces in everyday life. He pointed out a number of issues that may not be very apparent to those with sight, such as electric cars being too quiet to hear, something he is trying to change through the National Federation of the Blind.
At the conclusion of Mr. Brown’s talk, students had the opportunity to ask him questions, which ranged from “How did you get your seeing-eye dog?” to “How do you know when you’re at the end of the curb when walking?”
Ms. Brown said, “This lesson aims to help bring awareness about blindness and to help foster understanding, acceptance, and respect for those who are different from themselves.” She hopes it will help sighted students to learn ways to interact with people who are blind and to become more familiar with the tools and techniques used by visually impaired people.