Father Uses What He’s Learned from Raising a Daughter Who Is Blind to Help Other Parents
If you met Rachel Hyche, chances are you wouldn’t realize at first that the 12-year-old is blind. That’s because Rachel doesn’t focus on the limitations in life. She focuses on the possibilities.
“I have learned not to decide for her what she can and can’t do,” her father, David, said. “She likes to try to ride a bike and likes to go to movies, and I would not have thought that would be something a blind child would want to do. She thinks she can do anything. So I let her decide what she can and can’t do, within the realm of safety.”
Rachel was born at 27 weeks with retinopathy of prematurity. One of her retinas is still partially attached, so she has light perception but no vision.
“I had a lot of misconceptions about what it meant to be blind,” David said. “I thought it was the end of the world, and I pictured her sitting in a chair in her room for the rest of her life doing nothing.”
So David set out to educate himself, and other parents of children who are blind were an especially valuable resource. One couple, in particular, taught him a great deal, David said. It inspired him to help other parents, and he became active with the Alabama Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (AAPVI).
“We often get families referred to us by early intervention services,” David said. “When parents learn they have a blind child, it’s good to be able to use your experience to tell them things are going to be okay.”
One of the first families David worked with had a child born without eyes. He and his wife, Kim, invited them over to their house, and although he tried to share what he’d learned so far, it was then-three-year-old Rachel who gave them the most hope.
“She came running into the room, and you could just see the burden lifted off their shoulders,” David said. “I realized the most important thing was for parents to see how well-adjusted kids can be.”
David says the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has been a great resource—in fact, he wishes AFB’s FamilyConnect website and forums had existed when they first learned Rachel would be blind. Over the years, he’s used the website and Facebook page to reach out to other families when he sees a need.
“I contacted a lady who had questions about her daughter’s use of technology. I told her Rachel might be able to help her daughter, and the two girls talk now,” David said. “When I hear about a child like that who isn’t involved with technology, it opens a lot of windows for them. Anything we can do to improve their ability to communicate and learn is important.”
Rachel uses a variety of technology, including an iPhone synced to a 16-character braille display, a BrailleNote, and an electric brailler. David is a fan of AFB’s AccessWorld and uses their evaluations to find the right technology for Rachel’s needs.
He has always been proactive about finding solutions. When Rachel was about one, David wanted to help her join the fun of an Easter egg hunt he was planning at their church. He discovered a man in Los Angeles who was making beeping Easter eggs for the visually impaired, and David started making them locally—a project that has expanded nationwide with the support of others.
“Blind children being able to do things independently is important for their self-esteem and enjoyment,” David said. “It’s no fun having an adult take your hand and put it on an Easter egg. Kids need to find it themselves.”
In many ways, the Easter eggs symbolize the way David and his family nurture Rachel: Give her just the right amount of support and encouragement and then let her be herself.
“She’s a bold little girl who wants to try new things and isn’t afraid,” David said. “She doesn’t hide behind the fact that she’s blind—she accepts it and doesn’t feel sorry for herself. I’ve learned a lot from her.”