By Ericka Short
There are so many choices in this world and there are so many people who have opinions on what’s the best path to follow. When I was a child, visually impaired kids attending public school had just become legal. My parents refused to send me to the state school (Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped at the time). They wanted to raise their daughter, not let the state do it. I was not raised Catholic, but my parents told the school district either they let me be in regular Kindergarten or they were putting me in the local Catholic grade school. A daring, young and new Director of Special Education named Dan Bauer allowed me to give regular school a try and it worked out so well. I graduated from my own local high school. I just had to go to Janesville every couple years to prove I was still doing just fine. I am grateful to Mr. Bauer for giving me that chance. I didn’t get all the services I needed, but it was a new time in education and being on the border between blind and sighted did make it difficult. My impairment is not a progressive disorder or syndrome like many students have so I know Mr. Bauer did the best he could.
Don’t let others get in your way of your dreams. My parents obviously didn’t. Don’t believe the negatives people put into your head. Sometimes it’s a stereotype people try to fit you into; other times there’s no map at all which makes life scary. You might wonder, “How do I do that???” I’m telling you now that if you are a blind or visually impaired of any age, I caution you: Listen to those voices but make your own decision.
Huh? That seems obvious. Well I agree but not everyone sees it that way. There are those of us who are nearly or totally blind. People understand that. Then there are some of us who see well enough that we don’t make the cut to be legally blind but we have some restrictions like only driving in daylight and no highway driving. Then there are us inbetweeners. We’re the folks in the murky area that nobody, sometimes including ourselves, understands. I mention this because when nobody understands what we’re capable of or need in order to adapt, we tend to get shafted—not on purpose, but because people don’t get it. Braille is for blind folks. People who can read print get magnifiers and CCTVs. But I need both!
Now that we’ve cleared that up, don’t let others put expectations on you that you know are crazy. Thank goodness, school staff never forced me into choir or band because blind people are good at music. I can’t sing on key and forget rhythms. I can’t even clap properly. I just dispelled one myth. The next myth is that blind people are really organized. Anyone who knows me well has proof that I break this rule. I’m a clutterbug yet I still get the bills paid and work I promise gets done on time. I write for my church’s newsletter and it’s always done. I think I’ve missed the deadline once in two years. I’m married, have two wonderful cats, and have worked steadily for most of my life in some capacity. I love working with people and most of my jobs or volunteer work have been in nursing homes, schools, or day programs. At church, I’m very active too. Most people would say I’ve done almost everything but preach. Of course, there’s more but I only have so much space on this blog!
I can just hear people say, ‘How can a blind person do that?” I don’t think I have to explain how marriage works. We can all cook and clean. If we are able to have experiences in life and learn by doing, we can find out what suits us best and what adaptations we might need. There are lots of resources out there to help us along, especially the Internet. I’ve added a short list of organizations that can help you. Don’t be afraid to take interest tests, personality tests, job shadow or anything else that gives you more insight into yourself. Unless something might kill you or another person, don’t say no to opportunities that come along. Say, “Hmmm, I’d like to try that please.” Don’t let the worriers stop you. Sure, you might cut yourself making chop suey, but so does everyone else. Anyone walking with earbuds blasting Justin Bieber might also be hit by a truck while crossing the road. Let us explore the world and try out what we are interested in and how we can do it ourselves.
Wouldn’t you expect that out of anyone else? Let us make our own discoveries of what we can and can’t do. If I listened to the naysayers I wouldn’t be married, ever been offered a job, babysit others kids alone or teach Sunday school at church. In fact, if I’d listened to them, this piece would never been written and I wouldn’t have learned to knit or been an activity assistant in a nursing home. Well, this is done and I’ve some purling to do. Get busy and go for your dreams!
NFB (National Federation of the Blind) www.nfb.org
ACB (American Council of the Blind) www.acb.org
APH (American Printing House for the Blind ) www.aph.org
Hadley School for the Blind www.hadley.edu is a free correspondence school which educates students 6th grade and older in various skills plus offers family and professional support and classes. Almost all staff and teachers are blind.
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DVR and Job Central are part of this)
Vision Forward (Milwaukee)
Industries for the Blind (Milwaukee and Madison areas)
Beyond Vision (Milwaukee)
Lighthouse for the Blind (Chicago)
BLIND, Inc (Minnesota)
Ericka Short lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Featured Image: “Mountain Hiking Girl Woman Trekking Happy Jumping” is licensed by aatlas under CC0 1.0