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Even leaders can be visually impaired, sometimes.

The little geek in me was ecstatic to see our Universal Prekindergarten students enjoying the new Space Unit that the City School District of Albany Early Childhood Department added to the Prekindergarten curriculum this year. I love this unit because it unleashes the students' imagination and creativity. It blurs the line between non-fiction and fiction, which I can see influencing their play-based interactions, conversations, artwork, and learning experiences. They are linking multiple learning domains and asking interesting questions about them.

Space brings me back to my childhood when I dreamed about being an astronaut. I still remember the day my father took me to register at the Science Center (currently known as the Youth Innovation Center in Bahrain), and I chose my main area of interest as Astronomy. I made lifelong friendships and connections with people whom I shared with mutual interest. I also ended up having my very first job there as a lecturer at the planetarium, which reminds me of a great story and lesson that I would like to share.

A little over a decade ago, a group of participants of an exchange program sponsored by the Department of State focusing on bridging relationships between Bahrain & the USA was going to visit the center where I worked for a day-long educational tour and workshops. The mission of the exchange program was to connect American and Bahraini youth who live with disabilities. Bahraini youth spent a few weeks in the United States, and later they flew back to Bahrain with their American peers for a similar cultural experience.

Unfortunately, not all of our specialized classrooms were equipped to host students with disabilities, so when it came to drafting the agenda for the visitors, the planetarium was sadly excluded. It was excluded because some of the students were visually impaired, and they were not going to be able to see the stars and the planets that I usually refer ti in my lessons. When I asked the head of the center who was on the planning committee about the reason for excluding where I worked, he informed me that we were trying to provide equal and inclusive programming experiences for all the youth that were visiting our center that day. Later, I was tasked to help with translation Arabic-English during the tour when needed.

Given that I practically grew up inside that planetarium dome, I was disappointed to learn that these youth weren't going to experience the joy of learning something about astronomy on the day they were going to spend with us at the center. However, the fearless geek in me was determined to make something work (I don't think I would pull such a stunt today). I spent the night before the visit cutting wooden boards, aligning peg nails in the shapes of constellations, and topping them off with clay balls to resemble the size/distance/brightness of the star. That way, the students who were visually impaired would be able to trace their fingers and know the constellations that I was referring to during my lesson. I presented my supervisor with what I had for the visually impaired students. He was not thrilled about the last-minute changes of the agenda, but he somehow understood that this was important to me. After I finished my lecture and the lights were on, one of the students hugged me and started crying. He said, "you just showed me the stars for the first time in my life! I am not blind, but with my visual impairment and thick reflective glasses, I have never seen the stars before."

After the visit was over, my head of the center sat next to me and told me that he witnessed that encounter. He thanked me for putting the extra work to include the planetarium as a part of the educational tour of the center. What he said next is something that I'll never forget. While pointing at his glasses and smiling, he said: ".. even leaders could be visually impaired sometimes, but people persist can show them something they've never seen." What he was referring to wasn't my exchange with the student. He was referring to himself as he could not see the possibility of the planetarium being included on the educational tour. Despite the age and experience difference, he was humble and thanked me for what I did.

Most importantly, he believed in what I could do and gave me the chance to do it. He'll always remain one of the favorite people I have worked with because he saw things with fresh eyes. He listened to all ideas, even if they were unorthodox or unusual. He saw the potential in his team and gave them the opportunities they deserved. In other words, although he might have been visually impaired at times, he trusted his other senses.

When was the last time you were visually impaired and how often do you trust your other senses?


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