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Nov. 19, 2000 Mercury News


Blind boy, 13, striding toward independence


Abdullah Nikzad doesn't use a cane to get around the California School for the Blind in Fremont.

The exuberant 13-year-old Afghan-American is something of a daredevil, who prefers to navigate through the campus relying on his senses as he rushes from one class to the next. Using sounds, sensing shadows and having memorized the buildings on his way to class, Abdullah cruises past other children tapping their way along with their white canes.

He is one of seven visually impaired middle school students spending the year at the California School for the Blind (CSB) as part of its new Middle School Preparation Program. Some, like Abdullah, have a tiny bit of vision; others are completely blind. For one year they will receive intensive training in blindness-specific skills that will help them cope with the curriculum in a regular high school next year. Abdullah is hoping to go to Kennedy High School in Fremont, which has programs for the seeing-impaired.

For now, he likes being in a school where he's not exceptional or out of place. ``People make fun of you when you're the blind boy'' at a regular school, Abdullah said. ``They cuss at you and try to run into you. When you're the kid who can't see, everyone knows who you are.''

Fay Miles, a teacher of the visually impaired at Blacow Elementary School, has been Abdullah's tutor since kindergarten.

``He's such a lively, enthusiastic boy,'' Miles said. ``He's very bright and quick and is good at math, although long division was difficult for him until he mastered the abacus at the blind school.''

It was Miles who talked Abdullah into enrolling in the Middle School Preparation Program. ``This is an intervention to learn the technology of how to work independently,'' she said.

Abdullah was used to being around sighted children in regular school, where Miles said ``a blind person has to move fast to keep up. Abdullah is very quick and because he sees at the side of his eyes, that's a fantastic help.''

The Nikzad family fled the war in Afghanistan in 1980 under harrowing circumstances and lived for several uncertain years as displaced persons in Pakistan, Iran and Texas before settling in the Bay Area in 1987.

Abdullah, who is light sensitive and can see the outlines of objects, has five siblings who are sighted and a 23-year-old sister, Zahira, who also was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease that causes blindness. She lost her vision at the age of 8; now she has a family of her own and attends the University of California-Berkeley.

With his sister as his role model, Abdullah treats his blindness matter-of-factly. He doesn't dwell upon things he can't do. He said he wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. He concentrates on what he likes: using the computer and listening to music.

On weekends, he often helps his father and his brothers at their body shop in Hayward. His specialty is changing tires. Cars are his passion, and he can tell how new they are by listening to the suspension.

At school, Abdullah spends his mornings in Ron Mayeda's class, where he is learning to organize. ``Blind people have trouble organizing their lives,'' said Sharon Sacks, the assistant superintendent, who is herself visually impaired.

After lunch, Abdullah learns to master Braille-Lite, a small keyboard with six large black keys that works like a court stenographer's machine. It prints out both in Braille and in letters. Abdullah will use this for taking notes for classes when he goes back into a regular school. The machine also does math, spitting out the answers in a tiny voice.

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Date last modified November 24, 2000