Braille Monitor July 2006
by John G. Paré Jr.
From the Editor: John Paré
is a member of our national staff. For several years now he has directed the
NFB-NEWSLINE® program. Like all of us he is still growing in his understanding
of what blind people can do. In the following story he describes one of his
most recent adventures in learning what Federationists mean when we say that
we are changing what it means to be blind. This is what he says:
I recently attended the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped national conference in Portland, Maine. I was there to meet with all of the regional librarians as well as to do a formal presentation on NFB-NEWSLINE®, the National Federation of the Blind's digitized newspaper-reading system. My wife Cindy had come along to help with driving and take pictures and to enjoy Portland. On the second night the group went to an organized dinner at a local college, right on the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful spot, and after dinner about half the group (approximately fifty people) began walking towards a lighthouse. The state of Maine is known for its scenic lighthouses, which help keep the fishing ships away from the rocky coast.
As we proceeded down a smooth path, Cindy described the manicured landscaping. It was dusk, and the air was cool and damp. We had walked faster than most of the others, so we were among the first to reach the shore. I knew that the lighthouse would be located some distance out into the ocean. I expected that we would soon get to a large boardwalk with railings and benches or, if not a fancy boardwalk, at least a smooth path to walk along.
But as soon as I took my first step, I realized that this was not a pier. I wouldn't even have dignified it by calling it a walking path. It was a series of huge boulders that had been pushed together to form a jetty. We were eight to ten feet in the air, and the distance between boulders ranged from one foot to two and a half feet. The top of each boulder was about four by four feet and mostly flat. The first few boulders were reasonably close together, and I was able to step from boulder to boulder. We were all dressed in business attire, so I was wearing dress shoes. The rocks were damp and a little slippery. Our casual after-dinner walk had suddenly turned from a stroll to a major orientation and mobility test. To be honest, I was caught completely off guard. I asked Cindy how much farther we had to go to get to the end of the jetty. She said we had only gone about 20 percent of the way. I estimated that I had successfully crossed about ten boulders. This meant that I had forty transitions to go, and that didn't even count the return trip. The distance between boulders was getting wider, and what had started as a step and then a hop was becoming more of a jump.
I wasn't too concerned about falling as long as I stayed on the boulders. But if I fell off one of the boulders, I would fall eight to ten feet onto jagged rocks and would then roll into the ocean. I didn't want to be reckless; I still had to give my NFB-NEWSLINE® presentation the next morning.
I decided just to keep taking the crossings one at a time. I used my long white cane to find the end of the current boulder and the beginning of the next. I then used it to find the left and right edges of the next boulder. Finally, I used my cane to check the length of the next boulder since I didn't want to jump too far and accidentally jump right over it and land in one of the crevasses. Then I placed my cane at the point where I wanted to land and jumped to that spot. As I have mentioned, some of the transitions were just a step, while others required a jump. A couple of the final boulders demanded more of a leap.
Cindy was of course carrying her camera, so we got one of the other attendees to take our picture. As I moved from boulder to boulder, I contemplated the many reasons why it would be sensible to turn back, but I wanted to continue. After I returned to the mainland, I was happy that I had challenged myself to complete this walk.
Blind people encounter such situations all the time, not necessarily walking out on a rocky jetty, but something much more important. The question is how much we are going to let blindness change or limit the things we really want to do. At that moment in Portland I really wanted to walk the length of the jetty. Several years ago I would have turned back, but the National Federation of the Blind has taught me that blind people can do whatever we want to do. We just have to have confidence and courage in our own abilities. Using my long white cane, I was able to travel across the jetty safely and enjoy the lighthouse trip just like the more adventurous of the sighted people at the conference.
We all encounter these decision-points, and, like that moment for me on the jetty, they often occur unexpectedly. When it happens to you, remember to take one step at a time, and, most important, remember the confidence and courage you have learned from the National Federation of the Blind.