By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
When the children got old enough, they started working with an orientation and mobility therapist. The first time Angie met with the therapist, he looked at her and told her that she and her husband had a decision to make. Were they going to be the kind of parents who believed their children could do anything, or not? It was a big decision, he said, because "they can do anything" would mean a lot of bumps and bruises for the twins and more time and energy spent by the entire family. Angie and Brent knew they wanted the twins to have as close to a regular life as other children have. "They can do anything," they told the therapist.
The therapist had them meet at the post office for the first session. Angie showed up with Faith and Caleb, age two at the time, wondering what on earth he had in mind. He had her let go of the children and they all went inside the post office, and he directed Angie to stand back. She watched as the twins walked around the room, and both ran into the metal bar near the counter. Then she watched as the therapist worked with them, teaching them to try to figure out what was around them so they wouldn't be hitting things. Believing the twins could do anything would mean watching them get hurt a lot, he warned her again. Brent and Angie stuck with their decision. "We never doubted that this was the right thing to do. We were going to do our best to give them as normal a life as possible. That's what we decided," Angie said.
The Houston Livestock Show ring is massive, designed to handle the huge number of competitors who stream through each year. The first time Faith and Caleb brought their goats to the competition, Brent stifled his own fear and prepared to watch proudly from the stands as they went out. But before he joined the rest of the family up there, he pulled the judge aside as Faith got ready to compete. "Judge, I just wanted you to know that my little blond girl that's getting ready to go out into the ring doesn't see too good," he said. "I would really appreciate it if you can keep an eye on her."
Faith walked out into the ring, and she was counting her steps and trying to keep track of where she was in relation to the exit, but she was also handling her goat and trying to look in the general direction of the judge. When she wasn't selected to move on to the next round, she started heading toward the exit, but veered off to one side. Brent watched from the stands as Faith began to wander around the ring, but the judge remembered. Even while he was herding dozens of contestants and their goats to where they were supposed to be for the next round, he stepped away and walked with Faith all the way to the exit gate, making sure she found her way out of the ring. The judge did it without making a big show or causing the people packed into the stands to realize she was blind.
"He didn't have to do that, but he did. People have been really wonderful about all this," Brent said.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the largest event of its kind in the country and has been for a very long time. This year there are more than 16,000 entries competing in the junior livestock show alone, said Allyson Tjoelker, who is in charge of agricultural competitions and exhibits for the organization. Only a small fraction of the competitors, about ten entrants a year at most, have disabilities that require some kind of accommodation by the show, Tjoelker said.
When organizers receive a special request, there are two conditions for entry that must be met — they have to make sure the needs in question are legitimate, usually by obtaining written confirmation from the child's agricultural science teacher or the county extension office agent or a note from a parent explaining the situation and detailing the specific request being made, Tjoelker said. The main thing is to make sure the organizers know exactly who is going to be in the ring and what needs to be done to accommodate the child who wants to compete, she said.
Organizers would turn away a child only if the needs were guaranteed to significantly disrupt the show to the point that it affects other children, Tjoelker said. "In my tenure, we've never had to turn anyone away. We try to work with everyone as much as possible. We think about logistics, about the size of the pen, and if we can fit a wheelchair into the ring or whatever else needs to happen to let that child compete. There are questions we have to ask, but we work hard to let everyone in, and we've never had to say no," Tjoelker says.
From that standpoint, just letting the Snapp twins have spotters in the ring is a minimal accommodation. The spotters must be students who are also competing, and they are allowed only to act as eyes in the ring. The work of showing the animals has to be done by the twins themselves.