Precious by name, precocious by nature
Chelsea, United States
By Brian Snyder
When I first met Precious Perez, she was with a group of blind children and adolescents who had come to meet horses performing in an acrobatic show.
The kids stood with their chaperones in the middle of a practice tent, taking in the sounds, smells and vibrations as riders rode horses around them in circles. Afterwards, Perez went up to one of the animals and softly sang the Taylor Swift songs “Love Story” and “Safe and Sound” to him.
Perez has been blind since birth. She lives in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a working-class city right by Boston. Her life is both like and unlike that of many of her contemporaries, blind or sighted. She walks with a friend to their public high school in the morning, takes voice lessons, plays goalball, Tweets and follows her friends on Facebook.
One January evening, Perez traveled alone on The Ride, a public transport service for people with disabilities, from her home in Chelsea to the New England Conservatory in Boston for voice lessons and a performance.
She sang Purcell’s “Hark the Ech’ing Air” from The Fairy Queen, composed in 1692, and the more modern “¿Con que la lavare?” from Cuatro madrigales amatorios by 20th century composer Joaquin Rodrigo.
Perez, a soprano, is one of just 10 students in the vocal apprenticeship program of the local Handel and Haydn Society, a choral and orchestral organization that specializes in Baroque and Classical music.
During the week, Perez trains with her goalball team. The game, a team sport for players who are blind, involves a three-pound rubber ball with bells inside it that the athletes attempt to throw, bounce or roll past their opponents. Using the sounds of the bells to judge the position and movement of the ball, competitors try to block it from getting past them. Pads, especially on the elbows and knees, protect the players as they dive after the ball.
Perez attends Chelsea High School, an urban, public high school just outside Boston, where she packs into hallways with hundreds of fellow students to travel from class to class.
In subject after subject, Perez adapts visual lessons to her own needs. She listens as the rest of her Spanish class watches a movie in that language; she relies on the history teacher to read out the notes he writes on the board about interdependence and the U.S. Civil War; she works with her lab-mates in chemistry class as they observe a liquid coming to a boil.
Perez’s lessons are many – from scientific methodology, to breathing techniques for classically trained singers, to tracking a ball by its sound, to navigating snow-bank lined city sidewalks, to following the plot of a movie she cannot see, to serving as president of the Massachusetts Association of Blind Students.
And what are our lessons here? That the stereotype of blind people as withdrawn, dependent and needing tremendous assistance is false, as is the stereotype of American teenagers as constantly taciturn, bored and uncommunicative.
As Perez recently tweeted, “Guess I tend to be the one who does things that aren’t considered normal. LOL…”