Megan Bening's Story
When asked where she wants to go to college, Megan Bening has one quick respond: MIT -- an uncommonly high aspiration from an uncommonly accomplished young woman.
Bening, now 16 years old, has been blind since birth due to a condition called Leber's Congenital Amaurosis. She is attends Sibley East High School in Arlington and is taking a full load of college prep courses. Her favorite activities are reading, listening to music, hanging out with friends, skiing and technology. And, she’s maintaining a 3.84 grade point average.
Bening has competed in the National Braille Challenge eight times. The Braille Challenge tests blind students on various braille competencies. Of the eight years she has competed, Bening has placed third, second and, in 2008, she scored a first place. In six of those eight years she made it to the finals.
In the summer of 2009, Bening entered a national letter-writing competition sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The goal was to challenge students to write a letter to the president of the United States about the importance of braille literacy issues. Once all submissions where gathered that fall, the NFB would select the top 100 letters, bundle them and present them to the Secretary of Education who would then pass them to President Obama. Bening’s letter was selected to be among the 100 letters sent. She is not sure if the president has seen them yet, so she may send a copy to Obama personally.
This year Bening was asked to present to the annual Minnesota statewide Lions Club Convention. Hundreds of club members listened to Bening’s eloquent description of how her blindness is really just a trait. She explained that although she does things differently than sighted people, she doesn’t have less of a life. In fact, one of her favorite activities is skiing. Through a program of Mankato’s Center for Independent Living, Bening took an adaptive skiing course and is now hooked on the sport.
“You need to learn self-advocacy early in life because you will find otherwise that no one else is going to do it for you.” Bening explains. “But early on in life I had great and creative support and help.” she adds. She received mobility instruction and braille instruction from the earliest age.
State Services for the Blind (SSB) has been there since very early on as well. Bening's mother, Jean, heard about SSB from a friend who worked in the same building where SSB has its offices. She contacted Maureen Toonkel of the SSB Mankato office to learn more about its services. Jean was told that when Megan reached 14 years old she should apply for rehabilitation services. By working with SSB and her local school, Bening could gain a clear understanding of her strengths, abilities and goals. She would be prepared for the transition from high school to the post secondary environment that best meets her needs and aspirations.
Toonkel and SSB have been a great asset to Bening. Toonkel has always been a participant in Bening’s Individualized Education Plan meetings at school. SSB has provided technical assessments and recommended devices such as a braille note taking device to help her with her school work. Bening has attended the Summer Transition Program, a camp-like experience offered by SSB and the Minnesota Department of Education that brings blind youth together to explore their post-high school paths.
“It’s (SSB) an awesome resource and you need to build groundwork early on to get ready so that when you want to go to college you don’t have to worry about all the preliminary steps.” Bening says.
It's clear that Bening is preparing herself to take the next steps towards a bright future, one that may include studies at MIT.