Growing up in a small county on the North Carolina coast, WCPSS teacher Alan Chase had few opportunities to meet other students with vision loss. Chase was one of only two students in his entire school district with a visual impairment.
"You can really feel like you're on an island," says Chase, who is now a special education teacher at Moore Square Magnet Middle School.
As a teen, Chase and his family advocated for him to enroll in the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, a setting designed for students with limited sight, which he felt could better provide the learning setting and peer interactions he needed.
Advocacy has become one of Chase's passions. As a college student at UNC-Pembroke, he not only helped develop an on-campus program to help students with disabilities transition to college, but also worked on a statewide task force to lobby legislators to give disability awareness a place in the K-12 curriculum.
"We thought it would be great for North Carolina to say, this is what we stand for—inclusion, diversity, and making sure that students with disabilities have access to a quality education," says Chase, who advocated for disability awareness with other leaders from the N.C. Youth Leadership Network.
In 2007, the N.C. General Assembly passed a law establishing an annual Disability History and Awareness Month every October, an opportunity many teachers use to spread awareness to all students.
There is tremendous value for non-disabled students to gain exposure to peers with a diversity of abilities, experiences, and perspectives, Chase says.
"I want them to see that students with disabilities bring skills and strengths, just like anybody else," Chase says. "When they grow up, they need to know they're going to be working with a diverse group of people, and that collaboration is only going to enhance the workplace."
Chase is "a strong leader, and an even better person," says Principal Kengie Bass, who hired Chase to teach at Moore Square Middle. "He can show the students that there's nothing that can prevent them from being successful," Bass said.
Chase continues to challenge himself to achieve, both personally and professionally. He has earned his master's degree and is pursuing his doctorate, all while teaching and also directing a summer program for visually impaired students called the EYE Retreat. Students in the weeklong camp practice life on campus, and college survival skills, such as how to live in dorms, ride public transit, and schedule appointments with professors.
On the side, Chase has continued to push the bounds of what people might think is possible for someone with vision loss. He recently began surfing, and is headed on a personal trip to New York, N.Y., on his own.
"Students with disabilities are often taught they can't do things," Chase says. In spite of any physical limitation, they actually can do almost anything—they just do it in a different way, he says.