I hope more people learn about the Institute for the Blind of Taiwan so that more visually impaired people can receive help sooner. It’s important to pass on experience and expertise. I’ll do my best to contribute as long as I still can.
—Zhang Zi, head of the Institute for the Blind of Taiwan
Once the principal of the Taipei School for the Visually Impaired, and now at the helm of the Institute for the Blind of Taiwan (IBT), Zhang Zi has served the non-sighted for 45 years. A major part of her life—her prime years actually—has been dedicated to the education of the visually impaired.
Zhang graduated from a teachers’ university in 1975, the same year the Taipei School for the Visually Impaired was established. Because she had intern experience in the field of special education, Zhang was offered a teaching spot at the Taipei school. Back then, non-sighted people rarely ventured out of their homes, and Zhang had never even met a blind person before she joined the school. Although she was nervous about teaching there, she accepted the challenge, and thus began her career in special education.
Zhang explained that almost all the school’s students had been born blind. With no visual experience to guide them, they built their worlds based on their imaginations. Though they couldn’t see, Zhang believed in their right to receive a quality education. Whether the students were learning good habits, good character, or the methodology of going about a task, she believed the standards shouldn’t be lowered because of their visual impairments. On the contrary, even more care should be applied to their education, starting with the teaching materials selected for them.
Special education is different from general education. Zhang emphasized the need to care for not just the students but their families as well. She remembered a student’s mother who had tried to take her own life several times. The woman’s husband had walked out on her and their child because the latter was blind. She felt hopeless as a result, which had led to her suicide attempts. Zhang was in the late stages of her own pregnancy when she learned about the family’s situation, but, giving no thought to herself, she said to the mother, “You can’t die! I’ll help you!”
Zhang bent over backwards to help the family. She visited a masseur she knew well and implored him to take on the student as an apprentice to help lighten the family’s financial burden. Happily, everything turned out well in the end, and a possible tragedy was averted.
Zhang expended a lot of effort on cases like this one, and she helped a lot of students’ families. She learned from her experience that educators can do more than just impart knowledge to students—they can make more of an impact in their students’ lives.