Women On The Move | Kaleigh Brendle
Bold Blind Beauty is privileged to introduce you to Kaleigh Brendle an extraordinary person, student, and advocate. The first time I heard Kaleigh speak the power of her words was like a magnetic field pulling in and motivating me. We are never too old to learn and to grow and Kaleigh’s speeches make me want to be a better person, a better advocate.
In preparing for her Women On The Move feature, Kaleigh has also been getting ready for her debut to present to Congress. She, alongside other blind advocates, is working to gain support for some accessibility legislation this week. Be sure to keep an eye on this amazing young woman she is going to turn the world on its head. Enjoy! ~Steph
Getting To Know Kaleigh Brendle
Hello, my name is Kaleigh Brendle. I am 17 years old, and I’m a senior in my high school’s Scholar Center for the Humanities Program, in which students who are admitted, take collegiate English and History courses throughout their four years.
There’s just one difference between me and the other students who study in that program alongside me. I was born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a genetic condition that left me visually impaired. However, as Stevie Wonder once articulated, just because someone lacks sight does not mean they lack vision, and I have a clear vision of my future.
I aspire to be a disability rights attorney and to advocate in the courtroom for individuals like myself to ensure that they receive equal justice under the law and the accommodations that would permit them to succeed in their educational or professional careers. Throughout my life, I have participated in extracurricular activities that would prepare me for this occupation.
All throughout middle school, I was a member of the debate team, and I competed at tournaments all over the tri-state area. The coordinators of the first competition I was in, were skeptical of my braille material, thinking that I would be able to bring more research up to the podium than my sighted peers.
My blindness threatened to prevent me from competing, but my parents, coach, and I were able to educate the organization about the ratio of print to braille. And I found myself in tournament after tournament, enjoying every moment, and breaking records for the amount of individual speaking Awards Won.
An Attorney In The Making
In high school, I carried the public speaking skills the debate team had given me to mock trial, and I became the youngest person on my team to receive an attorney role. In my sophomore year, this activity that I had grown to love threatened to collapse, as all of its preceding members had graduated, and our faculty coach could not assist us. I stepped up and found myself as Captain, guiding a group of 20 freshmen through the competition season, where we faced off against other schools in actual courtrooms in front of actual judges.
I familiarized myself with the legal jargon of an entire case and then instructed all my members and we have grown in strength and numbers over the past three years. At this year’s competition, we advanced for the first time in my school’s recent history and won multiple trials. The experience of serving as head counsel, walking around the courtroom, delivering closing arguments, and cross-examining witnesses is an experience I will never forget.
My school had never had a blind attorney. That conference had never had a blind attorney. Sometimes, in both mock trial and debate, my competitors would think they had it easy when assigned to me face off against me, due to the societal perception of a blind person’s capability. However, I strove to demonstrate that I could succeed at whatever academic task I put my mind to.
Advocacy Skills In Action
This ability was almost taken from me last May when the College Board revoked braille and multiple other vital accommodations to blind students’ success on the AP exams. I filed two class complaints against the organization with the United States Department of Education and Justice, and the National Federation of the Blind, along with four other affected students signed on to both complaints.
Moreover, I posted a video to social media explaining the issue, and it currently possesses almost 90,000 views. I spent weeks speaking with federal attorneys, executives of braille transcription companies, and the media. And finally, College Board heard me consenting to provide the accommodations for every student in the world that asked for them.
This week, I will actually be taking another step on my advocacy journey by speaking to some members of Congress as part of the NFB’s Washington Seminar to advocate for legislation designed to make mobile applications and websites accessible for blind users. One of the skills that have enabled me to compete on an academically level playing field with my sighted peers, and to succeed in my extracurricular activities, as well is braille.
Braille literacy is absolutely critical, something which my parents and vision teachers instilled in me from a very young age. One such teacher prompted me to begin competing in the International Braille Challenge an academic competition for blind and visually impaired students.
Around 1,600 students participate in the preliminary round and 50 qualify for the finals held in Los Angeles every June. I have qualified for the finals 10 times, have placed second four times, and achieved first place in my freshman year. I absolutely love the braille challenge, as it not only improves my braille proficiency, but it helps everyone meet new people, make new friends, and create beautiful, unforgettable memories.
Beautiful Music Beautiful People
When I am not public speaking or completing the assignments for my rigorous academic course load, I also love to sing. For the past nine years, I’ve sung in the Princeton Westminster choir, performing at the governor’s mansion six times in the White House three times. I was even given the honor of singing a solo at the White House two times that we perform there. I also founded and direct what has become my pride and joy an international online choir for blind vocalists called The Sing for Serenity Choir.
We have members from 11 different countries and of all different ages. But what unites us is the fact that despite our hardships, despite our distance, and despite our blindness, we all can come together, making beautiful music.
Speaking of beauty, I have a message for every blind woman or young girl watching this. When I was a child, I always noticed how there are no American Girl Dolls with long white canes. There are no Disney Princesses with guide dogs. Those dolls and princesses are beautiful. But just because there isn’t one among them, that has a life like ours, and looks like some of us do, doesn’t mean that we are not beautiful.
I have accomplished things I never dreamed I could as a blind woman. And I’m not done yet. I am so much more that I want to do so many ways that I desire to give back to the world. I believe in every single one of you. I believe that each of us are stars put together united, we would be a Brilliant, Bold, Beautiful Constellation that could light up this world forever. Thank you!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Connecting With Kaleigh:
Kaleigh Brendle is a senior in high school, attending the Scholar Center for the Humanities Program at Howell High School. When her efforts are not concentrated on completing the work for her rigorous course load, comprised of four Advanced Placement classes, she can be found serving as the Captain of the school’s competitive Mock Trial Team or eading the international online choir for the blind she founded, which is called the Sing for Serenity Choir. She is dedicated to the National Federation of the Blind, serving as the Secretary/Treasurer on the New Jersey National Association of Blind Students Board, and she is dedicated to advocacy.
- Header Photo: Kaleigh Brendle is at the 2019 International Braille Challenge Finals in Los Angeles. She is posing with her white cane and wearing a sequined dress.
- Beyond Sight Magazine Cover. Kaleigh’s photo from the third bullet is featured on the cover. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is an eye. The text reads “Kaleigh Brendle Stellar Student, Advocate, and Musician.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
- Kaleigh is in a black and white striped shirt using her BrailleNote Touch to give a College Board speech.
- Getting inducted into the National Honors Society. Kaleigh is standing holding her white cane in her right hand and a luminated battery operated candle in her left hand.
- In this photo Kaleigh is at the White House preparing to sing. She’s standing in front of a large Christmas tree with her white cane wearing a white blouse paired with a black skirt.