The Braille Monitor December, 2003
A Glimpse of Freedom
by Rachel Black
From the Editor: Rachel Black is an NFB member now living and going to school in Arizona. Her experience is familiar to many. She decided what she wanted to do for a living and then found her self-confidence being undermined by others. She took decisive action and is now living her life exactly the way she wanted to. Here is her story:
"So, Rachel, what are your plans after you graduate?" I had been asked that question so many times before I graduated from high school that I was tired of it. I already had goals for myself and knew what I wanted to do. My goal was (and still is) to be a teacher of blind children, and I am determined that nothing will stop me. I will persevere until I have achieved my goal. Yet, because I am blind, many people did not (and still don't) believe that I can do what I want to do. They do not believe in the capabilities of blind people. One vision teacher actually said to me one day, "Rachel, I don't know how you're going to do it; I am afraid you'll be a failure." Needless to say, because of the comments made to me, I had very low self-esteem. I started to believe that I could not do what I wanted to do.
Then I had the good fortune to be introduced to members of the National Federation of the Blind. When I first came into contact with the organization, I was not impressed. I did not like people telling me what to do, or at least that was my perception at the time of what I was hearing. I already knew what I was going to do: I was going to attend the summer youth program at the Colorado Center for the Blind and then go on to a community college in the fall.
The advice members gave me was great advice, but being the stubborn teenager that I was, I did not listen. One member recommended that I do a full-time program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. But I did not want to do that. Looking back, I realize that this person was right. I needed training in the skills of blindness. The trouble is that it isn't enough for someone to say that a blind person needs more training. The blind person needs to discover that fact for himself or herself. I'm so glad I did.
It was almost three weeks before the summer program was to end when I started thinking about my future. I realized how much I didn't know how to do. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had no business going into the blindness field if I did not have the skills and confidence to teach other blind people. I no longer wanted to limit myself. I wanted to gain the independence I needed to travel freely. I had had a glimpse of freedom, and I wanted it badly.
I sat down with the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind and discussed the possibility of attending the center as a full-time student in the Independence Training Program. She was excited that I wanted to attend. That very day we had a staffing meeting to discuss this with my vocational rehabilitation counselor. Nine weeks later I was back.
I have now graduated from the Independence Training Program at the center. Things were not easy for me, but by the time I had completed my program I had gained the skills (but, most important, the confidence) to succeed.
The most challenging thing for me while I was at the center was travel. The breakthrough came when I did my drop, where a staff member drops the student off from a car in an unfamiliar place. I remember thinking, "I don't think I can do this." I walked for about a block before coming across a bus stop. From then on I knew I was going to do just fine. I got on the bus and got off at the light rail station and took the light rail to the Littleton downtown station. When I got to the center, I had an extraordinary feeling of exhilaration. I had done it! I didn't think I could travel, yet I had found my way back to the center from an unfamiliar place. I felt on top of the world.
Now, as I pursue my postsecondary career in the area of elementary education at Arizona State University, I know that I have the skills (but, most important, the belief in myself) to succeed in my college endeavors.
I strongly believe in what the Louisiana Center for the Blind, the Colorado Center for the Blind, BLIND, Incorporated, and all Federationists around the country are doing. Let us all work together (whether on the job, at home, in our classrooms, or out in our communities) truly to change what it means to be blind. And, when we do so, the hopes and dreams that so many thought we could not achieve will become the reality of tomorrow.