by Pamela Dubel
From the Editor: The following story first appeared in Reflecting the Flame, the seventeenth in the NFB's Kernel Book series of paperbacks. It begins with President Maurer's introduction:
Pamela Dubel is director of the National Federation of the Blind's training center in Ruston, Louisiana. Students at the Center take part in activities designed to change their beliefs about whatkinds of things blind people can and cannot do. In "Lessons of the River" Pam tells of her experience on a white- water rafting expedition. Here is what she has to say:
It was a steamy August day. As we stepped out of the van and walked toward the river, I was eager to begin our trip. I had traveled to Tennessee for a white-water rafting expedition with a group of blind adults who were students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
We planned to paddle down the river at leisure. After completing a brief safety course and practicing our paddling skills, we were ready to go. Our large group was divided into about six smaller ones. My group consisted of five people--three students, another blind staff member, and me. Our raft did not have a guide or any sighted person to give us directions.
The Louisiana Center for the Blind founded its program based on the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. The NFB believes that blindness need not be a barrier to success. The white-water rafting trip was designed to help dispel negative misconceptions that we all have about what blind people can do.
The leisurely ride turned out to be much more arduous than we had expected. Conditions on the river were less than ideal. For instance, the water level was extremely low, which meant that our raft frequently got stuck on rocks and other debris. It also meant that we had to do a great deal of paddling if we ever wanted to eat dinner that night.
It was very quiet on the river. We wondered how we could be sure we were heading the right way. Would we notice the landmarks that had been pointed out during our safety briefing if we couldn't see them? My doubts persisted as the hours slowly dragged by. My arms began to ache. Although I had been involved in the National Federation of the Blind for several years and believed fully in the capabilities of blind people, I must admit that I wondered if we would ever see land again.
However, my hope was restored. Soon we heard a distant train. We had been told that we would notice railroad tracks running parallel to the river about midway through the trip. We could feel the heat from the sun and used the cue to help us maintain direction.
Next we traveled under a bridge, another landmark. Although the bridge was too high above us to reach, we could tell that we were under it by the changes in temperature and sound. Soon we began to hear others from our group up ahead pulling their rafts out of the water. We cheered with great pride. We had made it.
By using problem-solving skills and our other senses, we had navigated the river independently. Our obstacle that day had not been our lack of eyesight. Rather it had been our doubts in our abilities and our attitudes about the limitations of blindness. However, we had demonstrated that perseverance and a positive outlook bring rewards.
Certainly there were times when blindness had been an inconvenience during our trip, but not a barrier to enjoying the challenges associated with rafting. With a little cooperation and creativity we had conquered the river.
That night, as I reflected upon the day's events, I felt a sense of pride in our accomplishments. Although my whole body ached from paddling and I was exhausted, I felt a renewed sense of confidence in myself and other blind people. Just as we had conquered the rocks and challenges of the river, my involvement in the National Federation of the Blind had taught me that I could overcome the barriers imposed by our misconceptions about blindness.