Jason Polansky: "Before, I Wouldn't Have Had the Confidence..."

Left photo: 3 women and 3 men pose for a group photo. 4 of them hold white canes. Right photo: Jason Polansky.
LEFT: DORS OBVS Director (far left) Sue Shaffer and ​Sharon Maneki, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (center) stand with Jason Polansky and three other Maryland students at the NFB Scholarship event.
RIGHT: Jason holds his Kurzwell Foundation Scholarship award plaque.
OCTOBER 2015 - Jason Polansky started working with DORS when he was a 10th grade student at Catoctin High School in Thurmont. At DORS, consumers work with staff to develop an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE); Jason’s IPE includes a college education, so he and his DORS’ Office for Blindness & Vision Services counselor, Debra Williamson, worked on getting him prepared for college.

After he graduated in 2014, Jason and his family decided that it would be best if he developed some stronger independent living skills by attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind’s (LCB) Adult Rehabilitation Program. Jason started at LCB in late 2014 and attended the program for nine months. He participated in seminars and confidence-building activities, developing problem solving skills, a positive attitude toward blindness, and self-confidence.  “I took classes in cane travel, cooking, cleaning, Braille skills, computer skills, and I took a college history class at Louisiana Tech.” One of the LCB program classes was a wood shop class where Jason learned to confidently use real power tools. He also lived independently in a town house and worked teaching computer skills to middle school students.

Two LCB experiences were especially meaningful for Jason, and both involved barbeque! One of the program requirements is that each student cooks a meal for forty people. Jason chose a menu of potato salad, beans, homemade rolls, and barbeque. Another requirement is to plan and take a trip to an unfamiliar city, so Jason chose Dallas, Texas. “I took a puddle jumper [9 seats] and spent two nights alone in a hotel. While I was there, I saw where JFK was shot, took a trolley tour, and visited an Apple Store. I figured out the bus routes and found some good food, including Texas barbeque!”

LCB’s mantra is: “Changing What It Means to Be Blind” and Jason agrees that he was changed. “Before, I wouldn’t have taken the trip. I don’t think that I’d have had the nerve to, or the confidence.”

DORS paid for Jason’s LCB tuition as part of his IPE. This type of assistance is for students who show exceptional dedication and ability, and Jason did not disappoint. In addition to his success at LCB, he also trained for the National Blindness Professional Certification Board’s National Certification in Unified English Braille and passed, becoming the youngest person (at 18) to receive this accreditation.  He was also awarded a $4,000 college scholarship.

Jason decided to attend Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he started classes this semester. He is taking his general education requirements and exploring campus life. Things are going well. “I am having a good experience in college and I am involved in an organization called Collaboratory that conducts projects to improve lives all over the world. The project that I'm working on works with World Vision to make water accessible to people with disabilities in Africa.”

DORS is continuing to support Jason as he attends college, helping with tuition, books, and assistive technology. And, before he started classes, Jason visited and toured the campus with a DORS mobility instructor. He also connected with Messiah’s Office Disability Support Services and they helped with getting all of his books into an electronic format.

Susan Polansky (Jason’s mother) is pleased with the services he received from DORS. “And I would tell all teachers who work with blind students to get them involved with DORS as early as possible… Jason has had a very positive experience with DORS.”

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