When Danielle Sturgeon arrived in the United States as a 7-year-old, she was academically a toddler. As an orphan in China, she had been taught only how to sing, because the orphanage staff was convinced that her visual impairment meant she could never learn to read and write.
But today she’s a college freshman living on campus, traveling independently to her classes and activities as she works on a psychology degree. That’s thanks in part to Perkins School for the Blind’s Short Courses, which provided Sturgeon with everything from pre-employment training to the chance to try stand-up paddle-boarding.
“It was a big part of my growth in high school,” said Sturgeon, who has low vision as a result of Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. “I learned how to better advocate for myself and ask for help and put myself out there. I met a lot of unique and wonderful people.”
Her parents, who adopted her from China after hearing about her at church, put in years of hard work before Sturgeon was ready to try out Perkins’ programs. They chose to homeschool their five children in order to give them more independence to pursue their interests.
But Sturgeon posed an extra challenge. She was far behind academically, unable to even identify basic shapes, and her mother had to learn braille to teach her how to read. (Eventually Sturgeon adjusted to glasses, which she didn’t have in China, and learned to read large print.)
When Sturgeon was in her late teens, and feeling more confident about her academic and social skills, her parents reached out to Perkins to augment their daughter’s education.
“I met enough of the people there to know it was a great place to be and offered so much and didn’t coddle the kids,” said her mom, Beth. “That really bothered me with visually impaired kids. To be coddled and treated as if they had less ability – Perkins doesn’t do that and that’s wonderful.”
Sturgeon has participated in a wide range of programs through Perkins, from Space Camp at the NASA center in Huntsville, Alabama, to Camp Abilities in Boston, where she played baseball and went rock climbing.
She’s found particular value in Perkins’ career classes. Through the summertime World of Work program, she interned at a Boston University speech pathology lab for five weeks, helping with experiments and scheduling. She became more comfortable explaining the accommodations she needed, such as using an iPad to send emails instead of a less-accessible Windows-based personal computer.
Through the Pre-Employment Program (PEP) earlier this year, she learned how to search for jobs online and write a resume. She also met variety of professionals who were visually impaired, including a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI).
Sturgeon, who has decided to pursue a career as a TVI, said, “Meeting the TVI was really encouraging to me because I originally didn’t know how that was going to work because of my visual impairment.”
Now that Sturgeon is in college, she’s using the skills she learned to find an internship.
“I don’t really like talking or writing about myself,” she said. “But PEP was really about selling yourself and I think it was great for me to learn that I’m awesome!”