National Geographic : 2004 Mar
TALLADEGA. ALABAMA What might pass for disability elsewhere can pass here with out much notice. A friendly rivalry exists. "We tend to have more of a sense of humor about ourselves," insists Jason Martin, a 17-year-old blind student. He and fel low senior Donte Little freely admit that target practice is not the strong point of their ROTC training. "But you can only laugh at yourself if you believe in yourself," adds the boys' teacher, Brenda Uptain, whose own vision is impaired. "Self-confidence is one of the most important lessons we teach." At AIDB the staff slips in such lessons wherever it can. All blind stu dents receive mobility training to allow them to navigate unfamiliar places using canes. The School for the Deaf's football team, the Silent Warriors, holds its own against local high schools, and won the Deaf School Foot ball National Championship in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians arena-a 47,000-square-foot indoor riding ring-serves some 100 students a week, including many with severe physical disabilities. They improve their flexibility, balance, and coordination with specially supervised horseback riding known as hippotherapy. "See that girl?" asks Tim Greene, the arena manager. A small group of children from the Helen Keller School, two of them in wheelchairs, has arrived to ride. At the center of the arena, the student Tim points out already sits astride a placid gray pony. She is deaf, and her expression is solemn; plastic braces encase her legs. Volunteer assistants post them selves on either side of the saddle to hold her steady while a physical therapist signs instructions with flying hands. "She wasn't even walking when she started this program," says Tim. "Now she can get around with a walker. Other children who've never been able to interact well with people all of a sudden start talking to a horse. These kids get more from this than just the exercise." And they get more from Talladega than just an education. Out in the dusty riding ring, as if to prove the point, the girl leans forward in her saddle and plants a kiss on the pony's bristled mane. 0 Deaf, blind, and agreat cook, Annie Williams (top), 52, lives Indepen dently inher own apart ment. AIDB teaches life skills to adults like Annie through In-home visits and classroom Instruc tion. Younger students get afeel for animals (above) at a School for the Blind exhibit. Says teacher SI nikka Smothers, "Learning starts Intheir fingertips." WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Watch a multimedia feature on 35160 and find more images at nationalgeograph lc.com/magazlne/0403. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic.com/ magazine/zipcode/0403.