Dagupan native seeks to inspire visually impaired Pinoys to keep on learning



By Bing Ramos

DAGUPAN CITY, PANGASINAN -  “You can read with your eyes, I can read with my fingers.”

These were the words 19-year old college student Jaeline Mina said to a handful of kids before she started reading to them one children’s story during the National Children’s Book Reading Day celebration at SM City Rosales last July 19.

Jaeline looks like your typical teenager—young, vibrant, and carefree. But she does not, in any way, fit the stereotype of a typical teenager. She is wise beyond her years, diligent and determined. She is visually impaired.

Jaeline, barely 20 years, can only make out a bright light. Otherwise, it’s a dark world for her.

She started losing her eyesight when she was 7 years old and by 12, she completely lost her visual competence. Like her father, Jaeline suffers from glaucoma, a hereditary eye condition that causes permanent damage to the optic nerve that usually leads to blindness.

Having been robbed of her eyesight at an early age should have left Jaeline with lesser drive to excel and to do well in life. After all, visually impaired people are being typecast to handle menial work like being a masseuse or living off someone else’s dime.

Again, Jaeline has broken the mold that the society has set for someone like her—she attacks life with zest and optimism.

“My condition does not define me. It does not limit what I can and cannot do. I have been living in a sighted community and I don’t feel any different from those who can perfectly see,” said the Dagupan City lass, her voice devoid of any trace of bitterness. In fact, she speaks with conviction that only people with high self-esteem could pull off.

Not wanting to be different, Jaeline decided to continue attending regular classes even after she totally went blind. Going to special education center was never an option. When her eyesight started deteriorating, her father taught her how to read using the Braille system.

Her mom, a high school teacher in Dagupan, is also supportive of her. With two strong people having her back, Jaeline went on to college undaunted.

“Discrimination was to be expected,” Jaeline said without even a hint of sadness or frustration. She said it matter-of-factly, which gives the impression that this fine young woman does not have an illusion that it’s a perfect world for people with her condition.

She said one university in Pangasinan turned down her college application because it lacks facilities for the visually impaired.

“My mom had to find another university that would accept me,” Jaeline recalled. It was in Colegio de Dagupan, where she is now on her third year, that opened its doors to Jaeline, making her the school’s first visually impaired student.

Fittingly, Jaeline enrolled in the College of Education, majoring in Special Education. She attends her classes with a guide who copies notes from the board for her. When she reaches home, the notes are read to her and she transcribes them using Braille or encode them in her computer installed with software that would read her notes.

Despite being visually impaired, she is among the top of her class and is an academic scholar.

“After college, I want to go to Manila and earn my Masters. The institutions there are more equipped for someone with my condition. I want to come back here one day and teach whatever I have learned,” she said.

What she lacks in eyesight, she makes up with a clear vision of what she wants in her future.

“I want to learn foreign languages, take up Psychology or enroll in an IT course. But the short-term plan is to help build awareness about visually impaired people and how educators could help us reach our full potential.”

So, armed with a Braille version of the book she was about to read , which she labored over manually for three hours the night before, Jaeline started her quest in inspiring people.

Her audience was captivated by the way she read the story of a girl who learned that happiness is not about having the best dresses; it’s about being with her family.

Her fingers did more than trace the Braille shorthand that morning; they also inspired a lot of lives.

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