The State Services for the Blind Success Series continues as Rakeb Max sits down with Blind Abilities Team member Jeff Thompson and talks about preparing to transition from high school to college and the workplace.
Rakeb was recently appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to the Young Women’s Initiative cabinet where she will assist the Governor and the Women’s foundation to develop initiatives and policies to close opportunity and disparity gaps between men and women, specifically women of color.
Last summer Rakeb attended George Washington University for a summer intensive program giving her some experience that will help her make decisions for her transition to college next year.
Rakeb has already began the process and has some good advice for others as she talks about her experiences and successes.
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See complete transcription below.
Meet Rakeb Max: Successfully Navigating the Transition from High School to College
State Services for the Blind Success Stories.
Transitioning from High School to College to the Workplace.
Working together with the Department of Education, school districts, TVI’s, parents, training centers, with a collaborative effort and one goal in mind, success.
I began exchanging emails with the head of the disabilities services, back and forth making sure they understood what my needs where.
So when it does come to Science and Mathematics, and dealing with visual concepts, I do need Braille and I do need tactile graphing.
So when you are dealing with people who aren’t as familiar with accommodations, you have to speak up and you have to learn to express what you needs are, which as a kid is very annoying, but you have to do it.
For more podcasts with the blindness perspective check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, and download the free Blind Abilities app from the app store.
That’s two words, Blind Abilities.
Welcome to Blind Abilities, I’m Jeff Thompson.
We’re talking to Rakeb Max, she is a senior high school student here in Minnesota, and she is planning her transition to college.
She has just been appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to the Young Woman’s Initiative Cabinet, she’s attended George Washington University this last summer in an intensive summer program.
She’s here to talk about her journey through high school, her plans to transition to college, and some tips and tricks that has helped her along the way.
How ya doing Rakeb?
I’m good, how are you?
I’m good, and thank you very much for taking the time to come on to Blind Abilities.
Thank you for having me.
Congratulations on your appointment to the Young Woman’s Initiative.
Oh, thank you.
Can you tell our listeners what that is, and how that came about?
I had been notified that the Governor was looking for people to fill 11 open positions the day after I came back from George Washington University.
I came back on the 15th and I had received and email notifying me of the opportunity, which was the 16th.
I actually received that email from Sheila Koenig who is someone I’ve known for a very long time, I’ve known her since I was 4 years old and she now works at SSB, and she sent it to me and my counselor Steven Benson.
It was an article talking about the Governor looking some people to fill the positions that were open.
So I read the article, it was a Star Tribune article and OI though it sounded pretty interesting.
So I applied, this was 5 or 6 days before the deadline, obviously it worked because I got the position.
So anyway, essentially what the cabinet is, it was established by Governor Mark Dayton and Governor Lt. Tina Smith last October.
What it is there for is to assist the Governor and Lt. Governor, and the Woman’s Foundation of Minnesota to develop initiatives and policies to close opportunity gaps and disparities between men and woman, specifically woman of color.
Well that is really exciting.
I hope you enjoy that journey.
So Rakeb, this is your senior year in high school and you are a transitioning student?
Yeah, so I go to South High School, which is in South Minneapolis, for middle school, I went to [inaudible] school actually which was through [inaudible].
I am currently attending my senior year of high school and I am hoping to attend college next fall.
As a student with vision loss, can you tell us a little bit about your journey in high school?
So, being a blind high school student, the significant thing I suppose in the blind experience when you’re entering high school is the transition from middle school to high school, to me it’s, the transition that is far more perhaps, not necessarily difficult, but [inaudible], in the sense that, you are more responsible for making sure that your teachers adhere to your accommodations, and making sure that your materials are properly translated in whatever format you need them to be.
So there’s a transitioning responsibility when you went for high school.
I’m pretty lucky, I go to a high school that has solid services, case managers and such, so I was very lucky to have my IEP team that was familiar with working with a blind student.
However they weren’t familiar with working with a blind student at my academic caliber, not to brag or anything, typically in previous years, blind students had taken the level of courses that I was taking.
So that had presented new challenges to my IEP team, and especially in Mathematics, I am currently taking Pre-Calc, Mathematics is already difficult, sighted as it is, not being able to see the board makes it just much more challenging.
Great job on the Self Advocacy, and for taking on the challenges of pushing the limits that seem to be in front of you as you forge forward and seek what you want.
Can you tell us a little bit about what’s that like to go where some students haven’t gone before?
For sure, for sure.
I actually was talking to my Case Manager about a year ago and I was considering, actually I think it was two years ago, my soph, yeah two years ago, my sophomore year of high school, and we were discussing my future plans for the following year in terms what classes I wanted to take because the way it works at my school, is if you have a Case Manager and IEP, you have to bring your schedule to them and discuss it your plans so that the appropriate procedures can be made.
We were going over my schedule and I was considering PSEO and CIS.
So what PSEO is at my school is Per Secondary Enrollment Options which allows high school students take actual classes at the University of Minnesota and attend actual lectures.
And CIS is essentially that, but you don’t go anywhere, you just stay at high school.
And it is taught by a high school teacher, but it’s college level work.
So I would say it’s probably a lot more difficult than AP’s.
And she has mentioned that I was the first blind student that she had known of in her history of being there, take the course load that I was planning on taking, which I thought was very, very interesting.
So Rakeb, you’re a Senior in High School, and you’re transitioning to college, or that is your goals.
How is that process going for you?
So right now the key thing is looking at colleges that fit my needs.
So personally I want to live, I want to be able to be in a city or at least a few minutes outside of a city, so I can access anything that I need to, access with ease without depending on other people.
Disability Services is definitely a big issue.
It’s very difficult to find schools that are specifically excellent in the services that they provide because a lot of the information that really is available out there, is through anecdotes, and from other people.
I have found ranking from the internet, I really don’t know what the metrics where that were used to measure effectiveness in Disability Support Services, but I’ve found that I’ve had to talk to a lot of other visually impaired people to figure out how DSS works.
I’ve also found that if you really want to understand how a college, what their process is in dealing with students who need accommodations, you need to email the Disability Service Office directly or call them and perform and interview and ask very specific questions about what kind of accommodations do they make, or do they allow, extra time, do you provide a testing center for those who need extended time on an exam.
To what extent will you interact with Professors, to what extent will you assist in getting accessible books, ect ect.
So that has sort of been the focal point in finding the perfect college for me is Disability Services and the appropriate rotation, but also I need to also find a college that not only has those two things but also is, also satisfies my academic needs.
I want to attend a school that has a rigorous and [inaudible] environment, and has good programs in what I want to major in.
Well it seems like you are right on track with that.
You can’t start that to early can you?
Oh yeah, I started researching colleges as a freshman but I don’t think I started, I don’t think started taking it seriously until junior year.
Rakeb, I understand that you did something pretty intense this last summer.
Can you tell us what happened out at George Washington University?
I attended a six week [inaudible] college, intensive program at George Washington University, which is in Washington D.C.
What in interesting about George Washington University, it’s main campus, which is the Foggy Bottom campus, it’s not really a real campus, it’s more sort of a campus that is integrated into the city directly, which has it’s own pros and cons, but anyway….
So what the program was, is that selected students were given the opportunity to take classes at George Washington University alongside Undergrads and actual Professors.
When I was there there were actually 4 or 5 programs going on at once.
There was the 6 week program which is what I was a part of, which is where we took actual college classes, attended lectures.
There was a three week program which was for younger students, I believe they were all freshman and sophomores, and they took college intensive courses but there was more of an AP style course and they did not work with Undergrads.
And then there were the 2 weekers, who did not take college courses either, they took challenging courses that were also more at the AP caliber and their classes were far more specific in specialties.
So if you are very interested in technology, you would take their classes for people who were interested in exploring technology in college.
With the importance of checking out the right college and Disability Services that they offer, location, all that, George Washington just kind of got sprung upon you.
How did you go about making sure that you would be accommodated?
So I had to notify them of my disability as soon as I was notified of my acceptance which is what I did.
One that was disclosed to them, I began exchanging emails with the head of the Disability Services, back and forth making sure they understood what my needs were, what my accommodations were, and there also was a separate application process for DSS as well so that you could officially register with them which essentially entailed, you just filling out your contact information and providing proof of your disability, so an IEP documents that prove your diagnosis.
Rakeb, when I was reading about the Governor appointing you to the Young Woman’s Initiative Cabinet, I read about your debating in high school, and the awards you’ve won.
So it sounds like you are a pretty good debater?
Can you tell our listeners, what is debating and how you got involved in debate?
So I decided that I wanted to do debate mainly because my [inaudible] history teacher at the time, actually was the coach.
And he’s notorious for recruiting students from his classes to a team, and he really wanted me to join.
So I said okay, why not?
I really didn’t know what to expect because debate is such a broad term.
It doesn’t really describe what the activity really entails.
You imagine it to be you and several other people discussing a topics around a table, but really, it isn’t that at all.
I came into it thinking it was.
It’s much more than that.
So I went to the recruiting meeting, which is a meeting they hold every year for perspective debaters who want to join, and there was food, which I always enjoy.
I’m going to be honest, my first year, I was not a good debater, so how debate works is that you debate with another person.
So it’s a team effort, you and another person debate against another duo.
You would think that a lot of it is off the top of your head but it isn’t at all, it’s actually a lot of reading from your evidence and you don’t really go off the top of your head that often, usually in the final speeches, the final rebuttals is when that occurs.
And what devices, or alternative techniques did you employ for debate?
So at first I did it all in Braille, because my sophomore year I debated in the rookie division for my first tournament and then I debated in the novice division for the rest of the season, my sophomore year and the novice package is significantly smaller than the JV and Varsity material, and what I mean by novice packet is that novices don’t actually get to do [inaudible] like JV and Varsity debaters do, they are given a packet about a couple hundred pages and you have to put together your speeches with the material, the premade material that’s given to you.
So I did that in Braille because I didn’t have a lot of paper that I was working with because, yes you had over 100 pages of material but really you are only going to use maybe 7, 10, 15.
And then I entered my JV year and I came to the realization that I’d be handling far more evidence, I would have to write a lot more, I would have to be reading a lot more, and my hands literally cannot move at the pace at which I had to be able to read.
There is this method in Policy Debate, called Spreading, which is speed reading, which is when you are trying to cram in as much evidence as you can because you are only given 8 minutes to deliver your initial speech.
And Spreading is extremely fast, some of the fastest debaters can speak about 300 words per minute.
So when I say my hand literally cannot move that fast, I do mean my hand cannot move that fast, so what I had to revert to is, get all the evidence on my laptop which is what JV and Varsity sighted debaters do, it’s paperless, it’s all paperless because you are dealing with thousands and thousands of pages of files, and what I did is have one headphone in, and I would listen to my screen reader and say what my screen reader was reading to me at the same time, which is very difficult, and that is what I have been doing since Junior year to read my material and to spread [inaudible] round.
Oh, trying to speak while listening to your voice over, that’s a tough one, I’ve tried that.
Can you tell our listeners how many awards you have won during your debating career?
So my junior year I won 8 awards which was great.
I did not expect to do so well in JV division, I was going to the division with very low expectations and I finished the season extremely well, my partner and I we went to City Championships and we made it to the elimination round and we got to semi finals, and we lost because technology failed us and it was very tragic.
And we lost and we ended up taking third place which is perfectly fine.
So my partner and I got third place at City Championships and I was ranked as the number one speaker in the JV division at City Championships as well.
Oh that’s great!
Oh thank you.
Yeah, I’ve won numerous other awards my junior year as well.
A combination of speaker and team awards.
Okay Rakeb, here’s the big question.
PC, or Mac?
Currently I am using a Mac, I use voice over on the Mac.
Previously I used Windows and I am efficient in both operating systems, I switched to a Mac freshman year of high school.
Android or Apple?
Definitely iPhone, Android I’m not good at.
I have attempted to learn to use that software and it just doesn’t work with me.
I just find the iPhone to be so much more efficient doing the things I need to do and I found Android just required so many more actions that I didn’t have to do with the iPhone.
In your toolbox, we call them the tools for success, what are your favorite tools that you keep in your toolbox?
So my laptop is my lifeline.
I honestly would not be able to do the majority of things that I do without my laptop.
I do the majority of my assignments on my laptop, so my laptop and my [inaudible] are my lifeline.
And then I would say my secondaries would be Braille and probably my phone.
Braille I primarily use for Mathematics.
I don’t really need it for my English and History classes, but when it does come to Science and Mathematics and dealing with visual concepts, I do need Braille and I do need tactile graphing.
My phone is just another method to check my emails quickly if I don’t really have the time to pull it up on my laptop.
I also use my phone to access textbooks.
I use Voicestream, I actually just started using Voicestream which was introduced to me by my friend, I had previously been reluctant to purchase the app because I am a very cheap person and prior to my purchase of Voicestream I was using Bookshare, which now that I have Voicestream, I can’t believe that I stuck with Bookshare for so long.
Yeah, Voicestream is a very good app, very robust, it’s a beast of an app.
Rakeb, who would you say was your best advocate growing up?
I would say probably my Mother, for a while it was just me and my Mom because my Father was and still is not part of my life, so I would say that my Mother and myself to be completely honest.
I went to a very small Elementary school.
It was a teacher aid school that had about 800 students which is very small, at least in comparison to the high school that I attend now.
And they didn’t have a lot of disabled students, so when you are dealing with people who aren’t as familiar with accommodations, you have to speak up, and you have to learn to express what your needs are, which as a kid is very annoying, but you have to do it, because, you know….
Also my Mom is [inaudible] proficient in English but there is still a bit of a barrier so I’ve also had to speak on her behalf.
Yeah, self advocacy can go a long ways, and it dfoesn’t stop there.
It’s something you carry with you throughout your lifetime.
Now Rakeb, what advice would you have for someone who is actually in your shoes, you know, in high school, transitioning to college, and the workplace?
Have your toolbox ready before you attend college, and what I man by that is have multiple ways to do things.
Because you cannot stick to one way, simply because you are going to find something that is not going to work with the one method, and you are going to have to find another method.
I think that something, if you are visually impaired and going into college that you need to be good at is communicating with readers.
I have an Aid or a reader is what I call them in my Math class, and in my Science class, and I think learning to utilize those people appropriately is very important because, something that people don’t tell you is that professional blind people specifically in STEM, if your interested in going to STEM, they use readers.
They rely on them.
And the main reader Assistive Technology is and has much progress we’ve made in developing methods for blind people to access class materials and other things.
You still need a reader, and that is actually something I learned from Mona Minkara who I believe you interviewed.
Yeah we did.
Not to long ago.
I attended an event in which she was speaking and that is actually what I learned from her attending that event is have many many tools in your toolbox, and I’ve taken that to heart.
We’ve been talking to Rakeb Max.
She’s a Senior in High School, planning her transition to College.
She’s just been appointed to the Governor’s Young Woman’s Initiative Cabinet.
So Rakeb, thank you very much for taking the time out of your day, out of your studies, to come onto Blind Abilities and share a little bit about yourself, your stories, your journey through high school, and how you are planning to transition to college.
You got great advice, and good luck with all of your initiatives as you embark upon your transition to college.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for having me, it’s been great!.
Be sure to check out your State Services and find out how they can become your vehicle for success.
And a big thank you to Chee Chau for his wonderful music, that’s lcheechau on Twitter.
Once again, we thank you for listening, and until next time, bye bye.
When we share what we see through each other’s eyes, We can then begin to bridge the Gap between the limited expectations and the realities of Blind Abilities.
For more podcast with the blindness perspective, check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on twitter at BlindAbilities, download our app from the app store, Blind Abilities, that’s two words, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, thanks for listening.