Dan Thompson will not remain silent while crippling budget cuts threaten to shut the doors of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, a place that holds a special spot in his heart. It's in danger of being closed this summer, as Gov. Pat Quinn has included it on a list of slashing he'll have to do if lawmakers don't provide more money soon.
Dan Thompson will not remain silent while crippling budget cuts threaten to shut the doors of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, a place that holds a special spot in his heart.
Speaking to the thousands of protestors who descended upon the Capitol on Tuesday, Thompson demanded that the legislature "give the children's future back!"
The Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, located in Jacksonville, is a residential and day school for the visually impaired run by the Illinois Department of Human Services. It was founded by the Illinois General Assembly in 1849.
It's in danger of being closed this summer, as Gov. Pat Quinn has included it on a list of slashing he'll have to do if lawmakers don't provide more money soon.
Thompson teaches an assertive technology class at the school that helps visually impaired students learn how to use devices that help them interact with the world. He says the school plays an instrumental part in helping these students gain self-confidence.
"I had a student who would never talk or touch anything," he said. "Now she's touching everything and her singing warms the coldest heart."
A graduate of the school for blind students himself, Thompson can personally attest to the important role it plays in the lives of the visually impaired in Illinois. After leaving the school in 1972, he said he faced abuse, discrimination and was frequently called a "retard" and an "idiot." He even ended up homeless for a while.
"The thing that got me through all that were the skills I learned and the confidence I got at the school," he said.
Now he fears all he could have left are fond memories.
"The cuts will close the doors of the school completely," said Thompson. "And if that happens, it'll be like turning back time on the all the progress blind people have made in this state."
Without the ISVI, Thompson said, visually impaired students will be forced to go to public schools that already don't have the money to provide them with the special services and equipment they need.
"The kids will be isolated," he said.
To stave off the cuts, Thompson and other like him are writing letters, marching, and lobbying legislators to pass an income tax increase.
"We pray that our wise leaders in the Capitol keep an open mind before they pass judgment on the visually impaired people of Illinois," Thompson said. "If they don't, we're going to be set back and kept away from the world – just like we were before the school was founded."
Eric Naing can be reached at (217) 782-3095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.