CONTRIBUTING TO SCHOOL, COMMUNITY
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
Tia Diaz, a senior at La Grande High School, is legally blind and has been her entire life.
This news may surprise people who have seen her for years at LHS.
Sometimes it even shocks her new friends.
Diaz deals with her disability adeptly and with a grace that defies her 18 years.
For a second reason look a little closer. Diaz, who has 20-200 vision with corrective lenses, sees what people with perfect vision are often blind to.
With an eagle eye the LHS senior spots the less fortunate and opportunities to help others.
This is why Diaz has received a noteworthy award from the Oregon Commission for the Blind. It is also the reason Diaz long ago earned the lasting respect of people like LHS band teacher Jim Howell. Diaz has been a student in Howells classes for 3 1/2 years.
I usually forget she has a disability. She just makes so much happen, Howell said.
Last summer Diaz received the Oregon Commission for the Blinds Summer Work Experience Program employee of the year award. The award salutes Diazs work as a team leader in the summer work experience program in Portland, where she helped visually impaired youths develop independent living skills.
Diaz suffers from albinism, an inherited condition. The disorder has left her without pigment in her hair, skin and eyes and is responsible for her vision problem. Diaz must be careful to avoid exposure to the sun, and she must wear glasses to block out ultraviolet rays.
An honor student, Diaz compensates for her vision deficiency in class with a monocular, a binocular-like device she looks through with one eye to get a better view of what is being written on chalkboards.
Diaz can read regular sized print on a page but doing so quickly becomes tiring. She does most of her reading with a magni-cam, which transmits enlarged images from pages she is reading to a television screen or a goggle-like device she wears.
Diaz never complains, but she admits there are times when she wishes reading was as easy for her as it is for most people.
It is frustrating. My eyes get tired, she said.
Her vision has not stopped her from making an important contribution to LHSs band. Diaz, who plays the flute, is a member of LHSs wind ensemble that won the Class 3A title at the state band championships last spring in Corvallis.
Diaz will never forget how she felt when it was announced in Corvallis that La Grande had won the state title.
My heart stopped. It shook all of us, Diaz said. We didnt think wed be first.
Diaz said that being involved in band has added much to her life.
I like the social aspect. I wouldnt have as many friends if I wasnt in band, she said.
Diazs contributions to the band do not end with the music stops. She is always working behind the scenes on fund-raisers and other projects for the band.
Im not sure how many people realize what she does for the band. She never talks about it, Howell said.
Playing in the band is just one of many things Diaz is involved in. The senior also:
works as an aide in a special education classroom at Central Elementary School for school credit.
works in the dining hall at Grande Ronde Retirement Residence.
is a board member of Eastern Oregon Center for Independent Living. The organization advocates for people who are disabled and the elderly.
volunteers as an assistant in La Grande High Schools county resource room for developmentally disabled students. She works under Union-Baker Education Service District special education teacher Deb Duquette.
Diaz also spends hours helping physically disabled friends, many of whom are teen-agers. Diaz makes a point of reaching out to these friends because sometimes they dont get to get out into the community or hang around people their own age.
Diaz, the daughter of Cindy Lucht of La Grande, plans to attend Western Oregon University in Monmouth She will study special education at WOU.
Duquette believes that Diaz has a promising future as a special education teacher.
She is very flexible, is innovative and does not give up, Duquette said. She also has a sense of humor.
What Diaz lacks is a desire to promote herself.
She is totally without ego, Howell said. She never draws attention to herself or all the things she does right.
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