Advocacy is important to this student at the New York Institute for Special Education.
Vanessa Luna, a 17-year-old high school junior at the program for students with visual impairment, has already started pursuing a career with that in mind.
She became an intern in state Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj’s Morris Park office, after meeting him in Albany while advocating for funding for NYISE a few years ago. She and other NYISE students still return to Albany each year to advocate for the school.
“It’s a good feeling when you go up to Albany and you’re helping people,” she said of the experience. “I definitely want to be somewhere in the advocacy field.”
Luna also recently went to Washington to lobby for renewing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Luna said she enjoys learning about the different problems constituents call in to Gjonaj’s office, and the concern his staffers show.
“They always take the time to listen,” said Luna. “And it shows on their faces when they’re meeting them.”
She said Gjonaj treated her the same way when they first met about securing funds for the school.
“You could tell that he was willing to listen and he wanted to help us,” she said. Luna said she’s leaning towards studying political science or legal studies when she goes to college so she can advocate for other people as a career.
“I feel like I want to represent somebody,” said Luna.
The issues that are important to her right now are advocating for students with visual impairments and schools on the 4201 list (state-supported schools for special education).
Luna has attended NYISE since first grade because of Nystagmus and Albinism, which respectively cause difficulty focusing and sensitivity to light.
“We tend to be forgotten a lot of times because we’re a small school, and I like advocating for us,” she said about NYISE.
The school has given her one-on-one attention from teachers and access to technology to prepare her for college. It’s also allowed her to do competitive sports, including swimming and wrestling.
“This school provided me with a lot of opportunities that I know I wouldn’t be able to have if I was at home or in a public school.”
People are unfamiliar with visual impairment, she noted, and assume that it means she’s limited.
“I just want them to know that we are different, but we can do everything that they do.” Luna said. “Just in a different way.”