Parents at the January 2020 FSDB Title I meeting were introduced to a force of nature. “I am the creator of my destiny, composer of my symphony, and I choose to live a life of greatness,” said Gail Hamilton, blind author, speaker, singer, scholar, and adventurer.
Hamilton visited FSDB to share her trials, triumphs, and remarkable journey from victim to champion. Having faced significant life struggles, she remarked, “You can be either victimized or empowered by your circumstances.” She explained how she chose empowerment. Parents were mesmerized and asked many questions; some, for personal advice.
Throughout the day, Hamilton shared details of her life story. Born in Indiana, she arrived prematurely. Due to her fragile state, she was placed in a high oxygen incubator that resulted in damage to her vision, a condition known as Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). Although she remained partially sighted during her early childhood, cataract growth stemming from her condition rendered her totally blind by the age of 11.
At home, Hamilton dealt with various forms of neglect and abuse from alcoholic parents who viewed her as an embarrassment and source of shame. At school, she felt isolated in an environment that was ill-equipped to accommodate her needs—she lagged behind her peers, both academically and socially, and experienced low self-esteem.
During Hamilton’s early years at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), she learned to navigate the campus without a cane on her own, as the school did not provide orientation and mobility services. She later attended a Catholic high school for girls, where she struggled to keep up academically. She spent countless hours each evening transferring reel-to-reel notes she took on a recorder into braille using a Perkins braille device.
After graduating, Hamilton found herself in a destructive and unhealthy relationship that lasted for many years. Eventually, she’d had enough and left the relationship, obtained graduate degrees in Voice and Counseling Psychology, performed in operas, and placed fourth in the Miss Colorado Senior America pageant.
Hamilton also built a Habitat for Humanity home and worked with five dogs from The Seeing Eye, a guide dog school in Morristown, NJ. She wrote a book about her life, Soaring into Greatness: A Blind Woman’s Vision to Live Her Dreams and Fly.
To combat fear, Hamilton credited a practice had she read about—she replaced fearful thoughts with grateful thoughts, specifically focusing on the human body. “I am grateful for my nose,” she would think to herself in her bed at night. She shared compelling handouts on etiquette with blind/low vision individuals as well as “pearls of wisdom” advice and insights from her life.
In addition to visiting with parents and staff members, Hamilton hosted two Blind Department sessions for middle school students and later for elementary and preschool students. They listened to her words of inspiration and afterward asked questions. Her presentation had a literacy focus in keeping with grant objectives (Title I support funded her visit).
Hamilton emphasized that blind/visually impaired students must work harder than their peers to stay on or above level in their reading and writing skills. She stressed to students that they must immerse themselves in every learning opportunity available and advocate for their educational needs. She addressed the importance of braille instruction and assistive technology.
In the Blind Department Library, Hamilton treated the youngest students to a sing-along and a hands-on demonstration of how to hold and strum an autoharp (37 strings and 18 chords) that she brought along.
The FSDB community is grateful for Gail Hamilton’s encouraging and inspirational visit!
By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit www.fsdbk12.org