MUSKOGEE, Okla. – After beloved receptionist Patsy Perceful retired in December, Oklahoma School for Blind Superintendent Rita Echelle needed another exceptional person for that key position.
Trinity Lewis, who works the afternoon shift Monday through Thursday is not the only person filling that role. However, at age 18, she is the youngest.
Her work study experience during Lewis’ senior year has turned out to be a perfect fit.
“Trinity is friendly and helpful to anyone who needs help, and she’s very professional,” Avonda Harris, work study and independent living skills supervisor, said. “I’m proud of her because she worked out very well.”
Vivacious and enthusiastic, Lewis has curly hair and a backpack full of technology, including a cell phone, laptop and iPad, and expertise with applications used by people with visual impairments.
“I’ve been here (in the receptionist’s job) since December 15, 2017, Monday through Wednesday, from 1:30 p.m. until 4:05 p.m.,” Lewis said. “And on Thursday, since we go home at 3:15, I’m here from 1:30 p.m. until 3:15 p.m."
After morning classes, she answers and transfers calls, takes messages, greets visitors, sorts mail, files documents and makes sure packages are delivered to their destinations.
“Friendly is not a hard thing for me to do because that’s just my personality in general,” she said, adding that she gets her friendly personality from her mom.
A residential student from Oklahoma City, Lewis and 94 other students attend classes four days each week during the traditional school year. OSB transports them home on Thursday afternoons for three-day weekends with their families. Students return to OSB on Sunday afternoons, but stay home for holidays and summer breaks.
When she first came to OSB for summer school in 2012, Lewis “loved hanging out with visually impaired kids.” She returned a few years later with her family for a campus tour and “fell in love” with the school too.
“OSB teachers adapt to what the student needs and help you in many ways that public schools can’t or will not,” Lewis said. “For example, if you give a visually impaired student a (standard) print book, they are not going to read that book because they can’t.
“OSB has electronic devices that can help us more than public schools,” she said, pulling out her laptop and iPad to demonstrate. “I went to a private Christian school for my 9th and 10th grades, and I didn’t like it very well. … They would not adapt for me. They wanted me to read this tiny anatomy book with tiny letters…”
This year, Lewis’ support for OSB earned her a speaking engagement at People with Disabilities Awareness Day attended by Governor Mary Fallin and more than 700 disability advocates at the state Capitol.
“Trinity has such a positive attitude!” Superintendent Rita Echelle said with a smile. “I believe the experience and skills she has gained from her work study assignment will greatly benefit her as she transitions from OSB.
“She is a joy to be around and brings a positive attitude to the workplace,” she added. “I have certainly enjoyed working with her and look forward to seeing what the future holds for her. Who knows, she may be employed full time at OSB some day.”
Lewis will return to OSB next year to participate in a fifth year program. After that, she may attend college at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond to prepare for a career as a middle school math teacher or in the medical field.
In addition to OSB’s work study experience, the school works closely with a job preparation and employment program called Transition, which is operated by Visual Services, for high school and adult jobseekers.
OSB and Visual Services are divisions of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, which is governed by the Commission for Rehabilitation Services.
When asked if she has advice for others, Lewis does not hesitate.
“I would say for people who are visually impaired or becoming visually impaired or blind to get all the accommodations that you need and advocate for yourself as much as possible because if you don’t do it, no one else can,” Lewis said.
OSB is the statewide resource for the education of blind and visually impaired students. Residential and commuter students meet all state-mandated education requirements and in addition receive specialized instruction in Braille, orientation and mobility, optimum use of low vision, adaptive equipment technology and tactile graphic skills that are not available at many public schools in the state. OSB provides free evaluations and consultations for students attending local public schools, their families and local school educators.