Shedding Some Light

I’m feeling incredibly down today. It’s probably one of the roughest days I’ve had in quite a few weeks.

That being said, I wanted to write about something positive. A man named Kevin came to present at our Orientation Training Center. He works for the Lighthouse for the Blind here in Seattle. He talked to us about their program and although it’s not currently applicable to my life, what they do is truly incredible.

The company makes parts for Boeing aircraft, military equipment, and other items that they machine on really high-tech gear. The part that makes them incredible is that they actively seek out blind and visually impaired employees.

You read that right.

Kevin’s job is literally to travel the country and find skilled people who need work but happen to lack sight. It’s not government paid, and it’s not SSI dollars. It’s the way out of SSI. It’s an opportunity to provide for yourself and/or family. I think it’s also a chance for a bigger change; a chance to change the view that the “sighted world” has of those of us who are blind or visually impaired.

I wasn’t as inspiring as Kevin, not even close. But if you’re blind or VI and you’re looking for opportunity this is definitely something that could change your life in a big way. Even if you’re just thinking about it a little bit, look at their website and see for yourself.

Seattle Lighthouse

Freed By A (Braille)Cell

I didn’t even know today was significant but it turns out it’s Louis Braille’s birthday. I didn’t expect to, but I got really excited about this. I would write on his wall, but he’s been dead for almost 200 years so I thought I would write this. I’m not going to give you a history report but I’ll just say that Louis was really freaking rad and he accomplished a lot despite being totally blind. He was a composer, musician, and teacher. He also developed the entire braille code which is really amazing because he basically reinvented the wheel of the literary world.

I’m not going to lie, when you first start learning Braille is exceptionally challenging and I think giving up in frustration should probably just be added to the curriculum because everyone does it. Eventually though, it starts to snap into place in your head and you kind of feel like you have some sort of secret wisdom, Although technology is rapidly changing and making life better for those of us who have impaired eyesight, there’s a sort of independence about reading, actually physically reading, that no automated voice can fulfill. To me, Louis did a great service that continues to be useful over 200 years later and I think that’s pretty incredible.

As a side note, you know those yellow strips with dots on the down-slopes of sidewalks? That is braille for feet, warning patrons with vision loss that the sidewalk is ending.

Happy birthday Louis, I’m glad you existed ❤

 

Guide Dog Padawan & College Freshman to be

The school I go to right now is basically training for being blind. Everyone there is older than me and most of them had some incident later in life that caused them to be totally blind or severely visually impaired. For me it’s a little different. Partially at the urging of my parents and encouraged by the knowledge of the degenerative nature of my eye disease, I decided to take a year in between graduation and starting college to attend this program. Basically, I’m learning to transcend sight and become one with the force.

A few weeks ago, a spokesperson from Guide Dogs for the Blind came to our program and talked about, well, guide dogs. It was super interesting for a lot of reasons. The actual presenter was a guide dog user himself and brought his dog, Forley. He wasn’t totally blind. I always thought I had too much vision to get a dog or that I wouldn’t work well with one but during his talk I started having second thoughts. He talked about the relationship between guide dog and owner and how it is more about trust and allowing your dog to help you. The only technical requirement to be eligible is to be legally blind. So I haven’t officially made a decision but I’m really excited and there’s a strong possibility that I’ll be spending two weeks at the guide dog training camp. If I do, I’ll definitley write about the experience.

Oh, I almost forgot! What sparked me to think about getting a dog again and to write this post? This week, I got my acceptance letter to Seattle University. Not only that, but a generous scholarship that makes it possible for me to afford going! I am -so- incredibly excited for 2016.

 

Eyes Wide Open

A room covered in boxes, wrappings, and bows accompanied by piles of just-opened gifts. The remains of a hearty dinner filling tummies and like a lullaby, pulling families into naps after all the anticipation and excitement. The thing I forgot about the most wonderful time of the year is that it is also the prime time for sickness. As I’m being reminded of this fact with a sore throat and the feeling of my body giving a definitive feeling of UGH, I try to think of the last time I felt this terrible. 

I don’t get sick often, but I have some memories of periods where I became part of the couch living on crackers and Gatorade. 

Surprisingly, these aren’t what comes to my mind first. I realized that the feeling that comes to my mind first has nothing to do with a bacterium or virus. Honestly, it’s much more crippling. 

The worst thing I have ever felt in my life is feeling like I was less of a person because of my physical disability. 

It’s hard to think about, hard to even write that sentence. I mean, why should I feel bad about something that I have absolutely no control over?

It seems ludicrous but I felt this way, and not just for a little while. I’m talking years of my life. I couldn’t make friends in middle and high school, at least not real ones. I ended up hanging out with any crowd that would accept me, and even there I was an outcast. 

I’m not the only one. Over the years I’ve made friends who deal with the same things I do and the story is often similar.  

So now, years later, I’ve finally realized the truth. I’ve realized that I actually have incredible value just like all of my legally/totally blind friends. But why did it take me so long to figure that out? 

Because when I was growing up there were no commercials and models and general media showing blind individuals as we truly are. 

People. 

Not an anomaly, not “wow that’s incredible they can do x,y,z considering they’re blind”. 

I wasn’t exposed to this and neither were my peers,or the peers of my friends. As a result impairments become like that curse word that even those who swear a lot refuse to say. 

 This isn’t just the case for visual impairment. Across the board physical impairments are displayed as an oddity. An oddity in itself considering that in one car accident, anyone could become a part of our underrepresented group. 

I say all of this not to be bitter but to be honest. I would never want someone to go through the isolation that I experienced during school. No one should have to because after all, this is the Information Age. Media does so much to negatively affect younger kids, giving them misconceptions about how they should look or act. Why not make it into something positive? Teach them that physical impairments happen and that those who deal with them are getting through life just the same as everyone else. We can help people to see, we just have to open their eyes. 

Edyoucation.

It is a story seldom told, but the life of a physically impaired student wading through public school is more like swimming through quicksand than anything else. If you’ve been there, the phrases “IEP” and “accommodation” are as familiar to you as your own home. And soon enough, these words start to feel like what you live within. They become the island you live on because often, a particular school only has a few students who suffer from a purely physical or medical impairment. In fact, only about 12% of students nationwide.

So, what does that mean for those who happen to fall within that category, completely capable of being independent learners in the right environment? In my experience, nothing much does happen. School administrators just don’t know how to deal with this tiny sub-group, nor do they want to spend the funds trying to. As a result, someone who is like me, (visually impaired with academic ability) are pushed to the wayside. We end up living in an in-between world even more than we already do, sometimes participating in the mainstream Gen Ed. and sometimes going to one of those classes. Not self-contained but in some back hallway. We take these “academic help” classes in order to fufill accommodations for extra time and specialized materials. However the other students alongside us are not typically there for the same reason. The majority of students in these types of classes have mild to severe learning disabilities and or behavioral problems. As you might imagine, the student having a meltdown is the one most likely to get the attention of a teacher. Meanwhile, those unique students, the ones like me, again fall by the wayside. We get our accommodations on paper but how about on a day to day basis? We have to work three times as hard as the average student to succeed. It’s not just about doing schoolwork; it’s about figuring out how we are going to access that work each day.

This is a framework based upon my experience but I am not the only one who has gone through school this way. So, why does it matter? The education of 12% is far from the majority and furthermore, if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you aren’t even a part of that statistic. It matters for two reasons. 1) Impaired or not, we are Americans and under the law we are entitled to a free public education just like everyone else. 2) Disabilities don’t discriminate. This might not be you, but it could become you. Or a friend, or a loved one.

What should you do about it? Talk about it. Write about it. Your voice is your greatest asset. Dream in 20/20, and things will come into focus.