USM transfer student overcomes disability and pursues dreams with support from MS Hearing-Vision project


Fri 10/09/2021 – 16:58 pm | By: David Tisdale

She believed she could so she did.

That’s the motto of Wilicia Kelly McClendon, a transfer student who begins her first semester at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) this fall, bringing with her to the Hattiesburg campus a determination that has served her well as she has overcame obstacles to pursue it. dreams of getting a college degree.

That goal could have been derailed without his own will to succeed, the support of staunchly supportive parents and help from the federally-supported Mississippi Hearing-Vision Project (MHVP), headquartered at USM. MHVP funding comes from
Education of Persons with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

Wilicia’s parents learned that when she was one year old, she was profoundly deaf. Cochlear implants have brought some improvement to her hearing, and her ability to read lips is a plus as well. Later, at the age of 10, it was discovered that she had vision problems associated with night blindness and peripheral vision problems due to a condition known as “RP” or retinitis pigmentosa.

The family moved to Laurel, Mississippi from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, staying with a friend while trying to decide whether to stay in Mississippi or come back to start again in New Orleans after the storm hit. destroyed their house. They chose to stay at Laurel, which turned out to be a blessing as Wilicia benefited greatly from the services provided at USM’s DuBard School for Children with Language Disabilities. She then graduated from Laurel High School, then earned 2 AAA and AAS degrees from Jones College (Jones County Junior College). At USM, she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and, after graduation, open her own daycare to work with deafblind children.

Prior to coming to USM, Wilicia encountered challenges throughout Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the form of misunderstandings and even indifference and discrimination from some fellow students and educators who were not aware of his disabilities and / or were unwilling to accommodate him academically or extracurricularly. . Despite these challenges, Wilicia forged ahead, with the unwavering support of her mother and father.

Her parents, Wilbur and Alicia McClendon, believe that due to Wilicia’s unique ways, she didn’t want others to know about her disability and be treated differently from her peers.

“We sometimes feel like she’s been denied opportunities because of her disability,” said Alicia McClendon. “Nonetheless, Wilicia never let that decide her fate in life.

“I was Wilicia’s main advocate throughout her college years and knew what was best for her,” continued Alicia McClendon. “So I tell parents no one knows your kids better than you do. Get to know their teachers, program directors and any outside services that suggest and make decisions about your child’s education, communicate with them often, form a team you can stay with, insist on solutions for your child and focus on the importance of its future. ”

One of those outside services the family engaged with during Wilicia’s senior year of high school was those offered by the MHVP, after the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services contacted the family and introduced them to its director, Toni Hollingsworth. The project is supported by a federal grant, which was renewed until 2023, which provides a variety of supports for educators and families of children and young adults who simultaneously suffer from hearing and visual loss that may also include other disabilities.

MHVP support includes specialized training and technical assistance to families, administrators, educators and service providers of children (birth to 21 years) who have both hearing and vision impairments. Children and youth with various Degrees of hearing and visual loss are eligible for inclusion under this grant (very few children eligible for services through the project are totally deaf and blind, although the combination of the two primary senses affected is called deaf-blindness within the framework of the IDEA). Qualified people may also have additional disabilities, such as cognitive, motor or / and medical problems.

“The ultimate goal of the MHVP is to strengthen the efforts of every family and educational teams to ensure better access to the educational program for every learner,” Hollingsworth said.

The services provided through MHVP include, without limitation, the following:

* E-learning modules for deafblind people
* Support and transition services
* Direct support to educational staff
* Team collaboration
* Professional and paraprofessional development opportunities
* Family workshops, support and networking
* Long-term support and expertise for participating families to navigate their child’s educational journey

The McClendon family hailed the MHVP as a valuable resource that has played a key role in Wilicia’s journey to where she is today. “I think having the Mississippi Hearing-Vision Project available in Wilicia’s senior year of high school was critical to her momentum to not only graduate from high school but also get two Jones degrees and do now transitioning to USM, “Wilbur McClendon mentioned.

USM has always been Wilicia’s dream college ever since she attended DuBard School for Language Disorders. “Now I’m living my dream as I start my first semester as a Golden Eagle,” she said.

Hollingsworth believes Wilicia’s success story is still ongoing. “Wilicia has achieved great things already, and now that she’s at USM I know she will continue to soar like an eagle,” she said.


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