Braille Monitor December 2004
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Reflection on the Holidays and the Federation
by Tai Tomasi
From the Editor: Here is a Christmas story with a difference. Tai Tomasi is a graduate student in public administration who lives in Salt Lake City. Next year she plans to enter law school. She currently works full-time in childcare and goes to school full-time in the evenings. In addition to all this, she serves as secretary of the Salt Lake chapter and president of the affiliate's student division, is active in her church, and is planning her wedding in late 2005. Tai loves skiing, hiking, and Rollerblading. She is clearly a living example of all she believes. Here is her story:
As a child I was made painfully aware every holiday season that I was different. Something about me somehow made me different from my twenty-two, yes twenty-two, siblings. In the early years I was eager to help string Christmas lights and do all kinds of decorating throughout my large house and yard, but I was always told to stop getting in the way. Moreover, I was never allowed to cook or do anything else in the kitchen. As a youngster I was inclined, like most other children, to dart hither and yon, generally making a nuisance of myself underfoot.
When I began to realize my difference--the fact that I was blind--I assumed that this was the reason for my family's not wanting my help. Gradually I ceased to have the confidence to decorate anything, let alone string the lights. I did manage to help decorate the tree, but that wasn't as exciting or fun as all of the decorating my brother Toby had done. He was our star decorator, coming up with all kinds of elaborate lighting schemes for the exterior of the house and our large patio.
I eventually concluded that these holiday activities were best left to the sighted and that I would probably never participate in the journey into the woods or the trip to the Christmas tree farm to find and cut down the perfect tree. Of course these attitudes changed when I found the National Federation of the Blind.
I freely admit that my first encounter with the Federation involved money--I won a state scholarship from the NFB of Vermont and attended the state convention. There I met Allen Harris, who became a great friend and mentor to me. Although my initial attraction to the NFB was money, something more captured my interest: the promise of something better, a new lease on life, and a new attitude about blindness.
I became involved with my state affiliate and attended my first Washington seminar in 1999. The experience was empowering, and I longed to go to a national convention. I got my wish in 2000 when I won a national scholarship and flew to Atlanta. That week was indescribable. There Joanne Wilson, current commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and longtime Federationist, attempted to convince me that I should receive training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I was not immediately convinced; in fact it took me two years to realize the importance of what she had been trying to impress upon me.
Feeling that I had not reached my full potential in school and in other pursuits, I decided to attend the center. This experience brought me full circle as my graduation from the center approached in early December 2002. Not only did I lend a hand with decorating the tree and the center, but I did it all under sleepshades, proving to myself once and for all that blindness was no longer and never would again be a hindrance to me. Arriving at the Christmas tree farm, I even cut down one of the trees we took back to the center. I felt like the world's best chef when I cooked all manner of things--including a turkey--for our holiday dinner.
This transformation in my outlook symbolizes what the Federation means to me. Perhaps as a child I was just paranoid. Perhaps my family's reactions were not based on blindness but on the fact that I was an inquisitive, overzealous, pesky kid. I suppose I will never know whether their reasons were based on my visual acuity, but I am convinced that I would have been allowed to string lights had I been sighted.
My experiences with the National Federation of the Blind and the training and philosophy we promote have been the only influence in my life that has allowed me to prove to myself that I can accomplish anything as a blind person. You can be sure that I will be decorating, cooking, and stringing lights for years to come thanks to the NFB. This is the type of empowerment the NFB provides.
Federationists have proven over the past sixty-four years that anything can be accomplished with steadfast and unwavering dedication. As Federationists we take pride in changing lives one by one. Through a life-changing, exhilarating event a blind person comes to experience firsthand the incredibly empowering message of the Federation: that it is respectable to be blind; that with proper training and attitude, blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance.
Through example and by getting our blind friends and neighbors to attempt things they never thought possible, things that they never dared to try because of blindness, we make a difference. This is what the Federation means to its members and what it can mean to the blind of the nation. So get out there and cut down your Christmas tree, string plenty of lights, and cook those wonderful dishes that bring delight to your friends and family.
As you go about your holiday preparations, do not forget about the NFB. Stay involved in your local chapters (in my opinion one of the most important elements of the Federation). Chapters are the best at recruiting and getting blind people out of their houses when they are struggling and discouraged. Let us teach these folks how to cook, string lights, and cut down trees. Let us help them hold their heads high, walking confidently without fear or shame throughout our communities.
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