Dr. Natalie Barraga
Hall of Fame Interview
Interviewed by Michael Bina, with assistance from Anne Corn and Jane Erin
When you were growing up what career did you think you would pursue?
I always wanted to be a teacher. I always knew I would be. I used to line my dolls up and teach them.
Did you ever imagine that you would be working in the field of blindness? Did you find the field or did it find you?
It found me because of Karen, my daughter who is visually impaired.
Who or what influenced you to work in this field?
My daughter, Karen, influenced me. She was walking on crutches at that time, and the Texas School for the Blind would accept her to the school only if she could manage going to the bathroom. I taught her how to do that and they said they would take her. At that time I started to teach there.
Who were your mentors?
The first grade teacher at TSBVI. She had Karen in her class and she was always very nice to me. She encouraged me to go into teaching.
Who comes to mind that you mentored?
Cyral Miller, Deborah Leff, and so many others. All my students come to mind.
Do you still recall the names of some of your blind or low vision students and clients? Which three come to mind and why?
Pasinee Sumranveth from Thailand, who had low vision. When she was here she wanted to be so independent. She took a trip by herself to the northeast. She was just determined to be independent. She had to prove to herself that she could do things.
What would you list as your two or three proudest moments in your career?
Seeing my former students be inducted into different honors like graduation and the Hall of Fame. Like Bill Daugherty. He was the only man in our program at UT. When he came in to see me to go into the program, I told him he would be the only man in the program. He said, "Oh, that’s good." We have a very special relationship. He has done a fantastic job as superintendent of TSBVI.
Did you ever imagine that you would be recognized and inducted in the field’s Hall of Fame? When you were informed that you were an inductee, what were your thoughts?
It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams. I was honored but my first thought was, "Oh, I don’t deserve that."
During your career you undoubtedly saw the field change in many different ways. How did it change? In which ways do you wish would have changed more?
Now there is a greater understanding of personal qualities of people. Decisions are made on facts rather than opinions. Before, people didn’t realize that classroom teachers could do research. That’s where we could get the most information. We’ve made a lot of wonderful changes—I can’t think of anything else that I would have changed. All of my dreams have come true. I just wanted the whole group of my students to be the best. I think that’s come true.
What three to five pieces of advice would you give to people entering the field just beginning their first experience working with clients or students?
Accept the students like you would any other student. Have the same expectations, same assistance, and same rewards. In other words, don’t make a difference because they are different. So many people think they can’t do something rather than let them try. Let them make the decision about what they can do and at least let them a try.
What are three to five pieces of advice would you give to those in the field who are experienced in the field?
Learn from your mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes, but if you learn from them, that’s okay. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
When you look back on your career, what was a humorous experience that really made you laugh?
A student saying to you "I told you I could! See—I did."
Are you still the most zealous fan in the world for the University of Texas Lady Longhorns?
You know the answer is yes. I go to all the games except the night games. I do all the day games.
Photo: Natalie Barraga at her 97th birthday party (photo courtesy of Anne Corn).