The Braille Monitor February 2003
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In the Corner
by Patti Gregory-Chang
From the Editor: Patti Gregory‑Chang is one of the leaders of the NFB of Illinois. In the following story she puts her finger on one of the problems all blind people face at one time or another. The support, understanding, and camaraderie she describes demonstrate the value of the Federation family. This is what she says:
Our experiences as blind people sometimes differ from those of our sighted neighbors. On occasion it takes another blind person to really get it. When I think about how we as blind people need each other, one particular episode comes to mind.
Debbie Stein and I have been friends for almost a decade. We met at an NFB chapter meeting. Some years ago Debbie and I walked along a quiet neighborhood street on the way to a school function for Debbie's daughter. Debbie explained to me that our trek to the gym was really a precursor to the main event, a dinner to be held that weekend.She went on to tell me that all of the mothers of seventh-grade students were expected to prepare this dinner for the soon-to-graduate eighth-graders and their families. Since her daughter Janna was in seventh grade, Debbie felt she ought to take part in this school tradition. Mrs. Arscott, one of the event organizers, had even told her she was welcome.
As soon as Debbie began talking, I knew she did not want to help in the school kitchen. With a wrench of empathy, I knew exactly why. "Yeah, you mean you don't like standing in the corner 'keeping other people company,'" I said before Debbie finished.
Debbie and I then talked about the frustration of being pushed off to the side during family events and fundraising functions at our kids' schools and clubs. We agreed about how difficult it was to communicate to our sighted friends, families, and coworkers that this shunting aside made us feel angry and unwilling to participate.
I expressed the bewilderment I feel whenever I return to Michigan for family functions. When I was a teenager my stepmother refused to let me beg off from chores, no matter how elaborate or pitiful my excuses. She helped to make me the self‑sufficient mother, lawyer, and wife I am today. Yet now this same stepmother politely insists that she doesn't need me to set the table or help with wedding preparations for her grandchildren's nuptials. "You're on vacation," she tells me, and "It's easier if I do it myself."
Debbie echoed my feelings about the stand‑in‑the‑corner syndrome. I felt incredibly connected to her and other blind people during that walk because this is one of the things that sighted people just don't get. No explanations and euphemisms were necessary. Debbie and I communicated without having to articulate our complete thoughts.
Equally important to me, we went on to explore ideas about how to get around the problem. Debbie decided to confront the issue head-on.
As soon as someone mentioned the upcoming dinner preparations and asked if she would be there, Debbie agreed to come upon one condition. She said that she would come if she could really help, not just stand in the corner. Pam Arscott took in what she was saying. She assigned Debbie to make salads for the dinner. Debbie fully participated by ripping lettuce and slicing tomatoes like all the other mothers who worked. Recalling this walk helps me remember one of the most important reasons why I belong to the National Federation of the Blind. Debbie and I met through the NFB, and through our shared experiences and exchange of ideas we have overcome some of the well‑intentioned discrimination we both deal with regularly.
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