Cane, AbleBy Lory Hough
Thirty-five years ago, legislation mandated that public schools had to provide a free, appropriate education for all children, including the disabled. One alum born legally blind shares his story as both a student and a teacher.
They didn’t have to take him. When David Ticchi’s parents approached school administrators at the West Bridgewater Elementary School about enrolling their six-year-old son, the administrators legally could have said no. It was 1951, and there were no laws on the books saying the town had to accept a blind child — or any disabled child for that matter.
There was, of course, some resistance and concern. But his parents pushed, says Ticchi, Ed.M.’69, C.A.S.’71, Ed.D.’76, in part because the only other option was to send him to the Perkins School for the Blind, located almost 40 miles to the north, just outside of Boston.
“I would have had to board there, which my parents didn’t want,” says Ticchi, who was born legally blind with limited vision — he could see some light and vague shapes. His parents wanted their son at home, plus he was another helping hand on their small farm.
Their pushing worked: Ticchi enrolled that fall in the town’s four-room schoolhouse. At times, he admits, it was difficult. Recorded lessons were still in their infancy — reading David Copperfield involved listening to 42 thick records, he says. He also didn’t learn Braille, a language system of raised dots, until he was a teenager. (Someone had convinced his parents that it was passé, so he had to rely on teachers and other students to read to him during elementary and middle school.) Occasionally, kids would tease him. When he got older, he couldn’t drive a car like the other students. At dances it was hard to get around.
But something important also happened: Ticchi’s teachers set the academic bar as high for him as they did for every other student. He says that if he got three wrong on a test, he got three wrong. According to the National Association of Special Education Teachers, this was unusual. At the time, the few disabled students mainstreamed in public schools — no matter what their disability, physical or learning — were usually nudged toward manual work like bead stringing or weaving, not academics.
As a result, Ticchi got something from his public school that every child deserves: a great education.
It would be more than two decades before other disabled students would legally get the same chance.