Atom Biggs: ‘The Greatest Adventure of My Life”
By Atom Biggs
Raising a blind son has been one of the most exciting and inspiring experiences a dad can ever have. I’d like to tell you a little about our son, Brandon.
As a baby he had some vision, so his visual impairment wasn’t initially noticeable to us. About the time he started walking, it became clear something was unusual.
At first my wife and I thought he was clumsy or maybe a little absent-minded when he would collide with things. When we’d put food on the table in front of him, he’d feel around for it with his hands while his eyes looked off into space. When I’d try to look him in the eye, he’d look to the right or left of my face but couldn’t seem to make eye contact with me.
We were shocked when the ophthalmologist diagnosed Brandon with retinitis pigmentosa. Now we were faced with new challenges.
Before we had children, my wife and I sat down and put together a plan on how we would raise them. Now we had to rethink everything. Our first step was to gather every resource available to us. We were quite surprised at how much lay within our reach. We read books, got him a free computer, visited the School for the Blind, and learned how to read Braille. We also organized his room with little baskets and cubbies, so he’d know where to find everything.
One of the most important stories I read was written by a blind man whose parents coddled him his whole life and were afraid to let him venture outside the safety of his home. I determined that was not going to be the story of our son. Instead, we looked for every opportunity for Brandon to experience the world around him.
We took our son to the zoo, on hikes, on field trips, exhibits, fairs and everything we thought might be experiential and educational. A blind person’s eyes are his fingers, so we always made it known that our son was blind and requested special permission for him to touch, even if the signs said, “no touching.”
We enrolled him in Junior 4H. I bought him a bicycle and tried to teach him how to ride; he persisted without my help and taught himself how to ride in our basement.
We met with his teachers and explained how blind children learn differently from sighted children and what accommodations Brandon would need in his classroom. We emphasized that he should be allowed to experience everything the other students experienced and not be left out of anything. They almost always listened to us and were grateful for our input.
We found that none of Brandon’s teachers had any experience with blind students, so we met with them frequently to make sure he didn’t get brushed aside. I think the most common excuse from teachers not to let Brandon participate was “we’re just concerned about his safety.” We’d explain that if they’d just let him tour the stage platform with his cane or have him buddy-up with a friend until he learned to walk the trail, he would be perfectly safe.
When our son was younger, we advocated for him, but as he got older we encouraged him to advocate for himself.
I think Brandon’s first major experience for self-advocacy was 7th-grade basketball. I told him I really didn’t think basketball was for him but that if he really wanted to play then he should arrange a meeting with the coach and the principal and voice his feelings. And so he did. He told them how much he wanted to play basketball, we were at the meeting and backed him up, and the coach was so impressed that he let Brandon on the team. He only played defense, but he played almost every game and the coach said Brandon was the most tenacious guard he’d ever had.
Brandon went on to advocate for audible traffic signals near our home, so he could safely cross the street and catch the bus. He touched models of cells in biology class, so he could feel what everyone else saw. Currently Brandon is advocating for the entire blind community to get them equal access to many online applications and software programs.
When Brandon was first diagnosed and we shared it with our friends, we got a lot of pity responses. I wasn’t sure what to say, but now I do.
Now when I tell people that my son is blind, and they say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” I tell them there’s really nothing to be sorry about. It’s been the greatest adventure of my life and I’d have it no other way.