There are many people who have affected me regarding my blindness and life in general.
One was Rose; she was my parapro from seventh through the middle of tenth grade. She helped me orient myself to the school, brailled things, made accessible pictures for math and science, ETC. I was terrified of entering junior high; elementary school was small, and I knew how to find everything. Suddenly, I was going into a junior high with four floors and 1,000 other students trying to get to class before the 3 minute bell rang. As I’ve written before, I was terribly shy and didn’t want to say anything to anyone in authority. She was always asking me questions. “you read that poem for English; what do you think the symbols mean? You talked about the death penalty in class; are you for or against, why?” At first, I just kept saying, “I don’t know,” and she said you have to have an opinion in there somewhere. Eventually, I began sharing my thoughts, even if I didn’t tell anyone else. We talked about race and racism, how I didn’t enjoy being catholic, family, ETC. She had high expectations for me academically and independence. I slowly gained confidence traveling the halls of the school, even when she was not walking with me
Another one is Doreen. She was my parapro after Rose took a different job. Besides all the scanning, editing, and brailling with AP Euro and three foreign languages, along with four other subjects she had to Braille, she listened to me as well. By this time, I knew how to be articulate with my feelings and beliefs and wasn’t afraid to share, even if they went against others around me. I talk to her about my mom problems. I told her my point of view on politics and religion. She is liberal and Methodist, so we have the same points of view. It was nice to find someone to share these ideas with and not have them be angry because of my beliefs. I told her about what I wanted to do in the future. Back then, I absolutely loved foreign languages, especially Spanish. I was born in Paraguay South America, where Spanish is the native language. I had four years in high school, and I planned to minor in it in college. I eventually wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking area to write and live in a bilingual community. When I told her that, she was like, that’s great; I think you can do it. When I told my mom, she was like, why do you want to move so far away, to get away from me? Why do you want to live where there is Spanish culture; what’s wrong with English.
Besides problems, I talked to her about things that were happy. When I got my first guide Valerie, she was the first person, besides Beckie, that I called. When I completed my first solo, I talked to her about it. When I got my AP scores, scholarships, my first job at kids camp, being able to go to Texas for NFB national convention, joined clubs, I told Doreen. She went with me to foreign language competition, where I was the top winner in Spanish for our region. The top winner in each language gets an Oxford dictionary for that language. It is a HUGE book!!! When I told my mom, she was like, what are you going to do with a print dictionary? I was like, that’s not the point; the point is that is a prize for winning. We also went to New York to see hairspray. My mom was llike, what is soo great about new York and musicals; they are borring. We still talk every six months or so; I tell her about my life, and she tells me about hers.
Finally, there is Cheryl. I had posted on the NFB national association of blind students e-mail list that I was interested in being a journalist; Allison, one of the board members, emailed with contact info for a totally blind journalist from Michigan. I was so excited; finally there was someone who worked in the business for 30 years I could ask technical questions, writing help, and how to complete aspects of the job related to blindness. I was unsure what to say in the email, so I just said I was a 16-year-old blind student looking to talk. I think I wanted to know if I could do page layouts and how I could edit stories in class since everyone turned them in in print. To my surprise and happiness, she wrote back. “Dear Martha,
Well, I have a little more time to write and think about your
questions. I got your e-mail last night while I was at work to write
a story for Monday’s paper, and I had to scoot pretty quickly, so I
didn’t write much.
I was thinking – is there any way you can print up the dummies to a
braille embosser? That would be a pretty cool thing if you had one at
school and it could interface with the print printer.
I’ll try to get information on a woman who edits and does design layout for a newsletter.
Unfortunately, you might have to have a little adaptation for your editing, and perform those tasks on a computer exclusively. I edit on my computer, but really don’t know of any other way except the
braille embosser idea. I have one at home, not at work.
What I most want to tell you is that, yes, a totally blind person can
work at a newspaper. I never had anyone to tell me that when I was in
school, so i planned on getting two college majors just in case the
journalism one didn’t work out. But it did!
As a professional, the biggest thing you need is a good support
system of several people who can drive for you if your local bus
system doesn’t go everywhere you want it to. It’s a good idea to get
retired people who are strongly civic minded; they know how important
it is for you to get there on time and come off as the class act that
I bet you are.
Where do you live? Would you ever be interested in coming up here and
job shadowing with me? It’d be swell!
By the way, I took graphics, but I worked with a reader and told her
verbally what I needed done, and she did it. That’s the only way I
could think of at the time to get through it. I also took editing. I,
too, worked on the literary magazine as a high school sophomore. What
I never did is yearbook – I’d love to hear about that.
This probably is the most challenging job you’ll ever have. Get ready!
After that, we exchanged many more emails. We expanded to talking about guide dogs, other aspects of blindness, religion, and just life. We met some time when she came to my hometown for a Christian conference and again when I went to Michigan for a dog scout camp in 2008.
That first email was 8 years ago; we both are now on different paths; I had depression as well as journalism burn out, so I went to grad school to become a teacher of blind students. The field is ever changing, and she also went back to grad school to become a rehab counselor. Even though I am no longer interested in journalism, we are still good friends. We email and have 2-hour long phone conversations. She listens to my dog ramblings and omg I don’t know if I can do this’s! She talks to me, and sometimes I have no idea what to say, so I listen and hope that is enough.
Writing is not as easy for me as it once was; it is hard for me to put things together with good detail and descriptions, especially when it is an emotional subject like this one. Being an inspiration and being thankful often brings up feelings associated with negativity, gratitude for accommodations, or pity disguised as compliments from the able-bodied public. However, in this case, I raise my virtual glass to these three women. Thank you for your overflowing cup of kindness and always treading lightly on my dreams.
This is my submission for this month’s edition of the disability blog carnival Please consider reading the other submissions and leaving comments for the authors.