Braille Monitor                                                           April 2007

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Children Will Listen

by Lynn Heitz

Lynn Heitz From the Editor: Lynn Heitz is first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. In the following story she describes the important lesson she learned from her daughter. This is what she says:

As Federationists travel through life, we strive to demonstrate our abilities as blind people to those we meet. But I have recently discovered that we often overlook the impact our successes have on the people to whom we are closest. My youngest daughter was four years old when the doctors told me that I would eventually become blind as a result of a genetic condition. It was difficult for me to come to grips with the thought that I might have passed on this condition to any of my three children.

Moreover, the only blind person I ever remember seeing was a woman with a guide dog who rode the same buses I did. As she boarded the bus, people would scurry out of her way so that she could sit in the same seat every time, the “blind person's seat.” I knew that I did not want to become that woman, but I could not stop blindness from coming. It was inevitable.

Now I had to decide whether I should stay at home, allowing others to do things for me, or investigate my options. I never gave much thought to the way the rest of my family felt about my impending blindness. I guess I assumed they would just sit back and watch. In fact that was exactly what happened.

About three years after my diagnosis we learned that my youngest daughter had an acute learning disability. A new struggle was now before me. My child needed to be educated, and I was going to have to make sure that the school district provided the tools she needed to succeed. I never recognized that I had already provided the most basic tool, myself.

At about the same time I met a man named Ted Young. He started talking to me about this Federation and said that I might learn something if I joined the local chapter and came to meetings. Several months went by, each marked by a friendly telephone call from a woman named Patricia, reminding me about the upcoming chapter meeting. Each month I thanked her for calling and thought up a lame reason for not attending. It took about two years for me to give in and go to a meeting of the local NFB of Pennsylvania chapter in Philadelphia. I was not a regular at the meetings, but the people were nice, and I thought maybe I could learn something. It was scary being in a room full of blind people, but I hung in anyway.

I began my college education, first at the local community college, then at Temple University for my undergraduate degree. School was not easy. I faced many challenges in my personal life and with the state blindness agency. But my attendance at meetings became more and more regular, and the things I heard and people I met provided continuous support and encouragement. When I had a battle to fight, they were by my side, and when I had all I could do to put one foot in front of the other, they were there just the same. Throughout this time I was learning to integrate new tools and techniques into my life and fighting the state agency for the services they were supposed to provide. Though I had no idea my daughter was even paying attention, she was watching all along.

Through middle school and high school I sometimes had to remind school officials that she did not need so much support. She needed to stretch and grow, which would never happen if they kept spoon-feeding her. They were a little resistant but finally saw things my way. I took this stand unconscious that not very long before I had needed to stretch and grow myself. I did not realize that my stretching and growing had begun many years earlier when I started attending those chapter meetings. I was becoming more comfortable with my blindness. I wanted my daughter to understand that in spite of her learning disability she could be successful and that she should not let it hold her back. We continued our educations, she in high school and I in college. This past spring my daughter graduated from high school, and I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated with honors, and I earned a master’s degree from an Ivy League university.

This past fall she began attending the local community college. In order for her to receive services from the disability office, her psycho-educational evaluation had to be updated. My husband and I met with the psychologist to get the final report. When we entered the office, the doctor immediately began by congratulating me on my master's degree. I wondered if this was going to be one of those look-what-a-blind-person-can-do conversations. My instinct was to become defensive. I told her that I really had not done anything spectacular; I had just gone to school and earned a degree that I hoped would get me a good job. She then told me what a wonderful role model I had been for my daughter. I did not understand. A good role model, me? Was that possible?

I turned to my daughter and said, “I was your role model?”

She said “Mom, I have spent the past several years watching what you do. I have seen how difficult some things were and how you struggled, but you never gave up." I hesitated because I did not see the connection. She then said, “Well, Mom, I just figured that, if I persevered just like you, I could also do well just like you.”

I was more than a little stunned to hear her comment. It did not seem possible that my achievements had had an impact on someone close to me. The National Federation of the Blind has become an integral part of my life. It has shown me that blind people can be successful. And through me it has also shown my daughter that she can be successful as well.

For the past several years I have been actively working with the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, doing outreach and advocacy. As I have progressed through college and my many internships, I have been determined that those I meet develop an understanding that blind people can be productive members of society. But I had never considered the impact this effort was having at home.

The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind has now become second nature to me. If I ever questioned whether I was doing the right thing or wondered whether anyone was paying attention to what I do or say, I now have my answer.

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