In “The Miracle Worker,” a deaf and blind girl named Helen Keller finally begins to overcome her handicaps thanks to the assistance of a very dedicated teacher. Craig native Isadora “Izzy” Hitz wouldn’t call herself the modern Annie Sullivan, but someday, maybe.
Hitz, a 2012 Moffat County High School graduate who will be returning to classes at Fort Lewis College in Durango at the beginning of September, spent much of her summer learning as much as she could about the profession she hopes to pursue. She recently received scholarships from the National Federation of the Blind and the organization’s Colorado branch to attend NFB’s national convention in Orlando, Fla., last month.
“I wanted to go because there were a lot of good resources there for what I want to do,” she said.
Hitz, 19, currently is studying elementary education at Fort Lewis with the goal of working specifically with blind children.
The convention sparked a new kind of interest in the blind community as Hitz found out more and more about the less obvious struggles. Among the issues speakers discussed were the diminished amount of reading materials.
Hitz said only about 5 percent of all published books are readily available in Braille, audio format or large print for the partially sighted. A treaty with the World Intellectual Property Organization recently struck a blow to the effort to cut through international hang-ups with copyright law to make books easier to access across the globe.
Another topic of interest to Hitz was the income disparities for the blind in certain work sectors.
“They’re still fighting to be paid minimum wage, because they can get paid as low as 77 cents an hour,” she said. “Just being around them, I found they’re capable of doing anything.”
Hitz also worked at BELL — Braille Enrichment for Literacy & Learning — Camp in Denver during the summer. The program provides educational opportunities, as well as fun activities for blind youth.
“We went swimming, horseback riding, all kinds of stuff,” she said. “A lot of people think people with disabilities can’t do anything for themselves, and they think when they’re around blind people, they need to guide them, but they know what they’re doing most of the time.”
Hitz hopes to go on to attend graduate school, receive certification as a teacher of the visually impaired and ultimately visit small communities around the country, or even the world, where resources are limited for those without sight. She was inspired to embark on a career working with blind children because of her 9-year-old cousin, Brayden Martinez, whose optic nerve hypoplasia has impaired his sight his entire life.
“I’ve watched him ever since he was a baby,” Hitz said.
In her senior year of high school, Hitz learned Braille to assist Martinez in his own education, and outside of school, she’s always made herself available to play games or just hang out whenever he needs her.
“It’s pretty cool,” Martinez said about spending time with his cousin. “I get a lot more knowledge in my brain with her.”
His mother, Shannon Mayes, said Hitz has had a huge impact on her son’s life by taking on somewhat of a teaching role as well as being a family member. Hitz also took her cousin to BELL Camp this year and last.
“There’s not too many teenage kids who would take the time out of their summer to do all that,” Mayes said. “She definitely has the personality to help children, and I think she’s going to do it well. She gives a lot of herself.”
Hitz said the element she likes most about teaching is how much the process of overcoming adversity means to students.
“Watching them accomplish something they didn’t think was possible is the most rewarding part,” she said. “To see the bright smile on their face is amazing.”
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.