Paying it Forward to a New Generation

female adult embracing little girl

“I had wonderful teachers who knew I was going to be successful,” says Caitlin Hernandez, graduate of Wayfinder’s Blind Babies Foundation early intervention program and teacher of children with disabilities. “I want to pay this forward.”

Caitlin, now age 29, was born blind. “I have light perception but no functional vision,” she explains. When Caitlin was about 8 months old, her parents realized she could not see. At first, they thought she was deaf rather than blind. “They would make a noise and I would not turn my head,” Caitlin says. “I was trying to hold still and listen because I couldn’t see. There was nothing for me to look at.”

Like many parents who have not been exposed to children with vision loss, Caitlin’s parents did not know what to do. They turned to Wayfinder for early intervention. “The program was a pillar of strength and knowledge,” says Caitlin. Through Wayfinder, her parents learned that Caitlin could live a full life. And she has!

After attending UC Santa Cruz for her bachelor’s, Caitlin earned a special education teaching credential from San Francisco State. She teaches third-, fourth- and fifth-graders with disabilities in a public school. “It’s nice for them to have a disabled teacher,” she says. “We become very close. I really love what I do. It’s never dull.”

When she’s not working, Caitlin’s main hobby is writing. Her current project is a young adult book. She also loves to sing and read and go places with her friends, most recently a county fair and waterpark.

Also, Caitlin is passionate about answering questions from parents of children who are blind. She jokes that she is happy to share her mistakes. All these years, Caitlin has stayed in contact with the vision specialists who guided her early development: Julie, Dottie and Jeri. “They know me. They see me as a person,” Caitlin says. “Even though I don’t remember working with them, they were always there as I grew up.” Elizabeth’s parents met Caitlin through Jeri.

female adult and little girl with glasses play piano

Caitlin was invited to deliver the keynote speech at a large state convention for professionals who work with blind and visually impaired children. “I don’t like public speaking,” she admits. Caitlin learned that her former vision specialist, Julie, was going to attend. Before the speech, Julie sought out Caitlin and helped her remain calm. “She’s known me longer than anyone other than my parents,” Caitlin says. “I knew it would make Julie proud to see a ‘blind baby’ up there giving a speech.”

November 19, 2019