Braille Monitor                                                    January 2008

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A Change in Perspective

by Rebekah Osborne

Rebekah OsborneFrom the Editor: Becky Osborne is rapidly becoming a leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. The state agency for the blind sent one area manager and one counselor to attend several days of the NFB’s 2006 convention in Dallas. Some weeks later the counselor contacted me to say that she had a consumer losing sight quickly from retinitis pigmentosa. She lived in a rural part of the state and knew no one else who was dealing with blindness. Could I talk with her and help her get to our state convention. I of course followed through and talked several times with the young mother of three. She agreed that she might benefit from attending our convention. I arranged for her to room with an experienced Federationist who was happy to see that Becky got to the various meetings and activities that could help her.

By the spring she was eager to attend the national convention and applied for assistance from the affiliate to make the trip possible. In our infrequent phone conversations she seemed to be doing well—much better than she had been the previous fall. I was a bit concerned because it did not seem to me that her husband was making the strides that Becky was. He assured me that he wanted her to become independent, but his actions and comments to her did not match his statements to me.

The following article first appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. It is Becky’s description of the past year from her perspective. It recounts yet another version of what happens when a person losing vision dares to embrace the transforming philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is Becky’s story in her own words:

Just a little over a year ago I frequently reflected on the ways my life had changed since my diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa. I often pondered the number of tasks and jobs that I was sure required vision to perform. I concluded that it would be impossible to do most things without vision. I had of course persuaded myself that working as a nurse was no longer an option for me. I was reduced to thinking that I could perform only those jobs that required little or no skill. I wondered how I could even get a job washing dishes because I would not be able to see food left on a dish. My then husband cautioned my children that they must do more cleaning around the house because their mom could not see well enough to clean properly; it was up to them to pick up the slack. In this state of depression and denial, I resigned myself to being helpless and dependent on others. I could muster little objection to their well-meant but often tactless offers of help. When I cleaned a room, he would trail me, pointing out the spots I had missed, telling me that I should let someone else do the cleaning, leaving me less confident each time. Traveling by myself presented a similar problem. I became convinced that I could not travel without assistance, a view eagerly reinforced by my husband.

A year ago I did not own a cane, nor did it occur to me that I needed one. I could not imagine using one because of the embarrassment, questions, and stares my imagination conjured up. I was only thirty years old and could not get past the stereotype that only old people used canes. I was afraid of the embarrassment that a cane would envelop me in if my family saw me using one. I did not want any part of the inevitable pity from family, friends, and strangers. Even after I received my first cane, I had reservations about using it; it seemed silly to me to go through an evaluation for mobility training. Clearly I had too much vision to be blind. Why should I even contemplate acquiring the skills of blindness? As you can see, I was still in denial about my blindness.

That was my situation and state of mind in the early fall of 2006. Little did I know how profoundly my life and attitudes about blindness were about to change. My BSVI counselor began the process by telling me about a convention she had attended in July. She gave me information about an upcoming state convention of the National Federation of the Blind to be held in November. Because I felt so isolated and alone in my rural community, I told her that I would be interested in going to the convention and checking out these peculiar people who did not think blindness was a catastrophe. But as the time got closer, real doubts about being around a bunch of blind folks crept in, even though I had already committed to attending. I thought of the trip as a mini-vacation, away from the kids and my husband. I was more focused on trying to find a cure for my vision loss than accepting it.

The 2006 convention of the NFB of Ohio was a real eye-opener for me. Even though I wasn't sure if I really belonged there at first, my roommate made a statement during one of our many conversations that transformed my thinking and stays with me to this day: “Are you more blind or more sighted?” That one question hit me like a ton of bricks and forced me to face my blindness honestly.

It was not until I attended the NFB convention that I was exposed to people who were dealing with vision loss, just as I was. Many held respectable positions in their communities, and I began to realize that blindness was not the end of the world. Even after the convention the conversations with my roommate continued. She kept pouring NFB philosophy into me, changing the way I viewed blindness. The realization that I no longer wanted to be a victim of blindness but a responsible, functional adult in my family and community filled me with hope and determination. I wanted my children to see their mother, not in despair, but as a fighter, someone who could stand up to the challenge and not back down, despite the obstacles that got in my way. I also wanted them to see their mother as someone to admire for her strengths and courage; I didn’t want them to look at me with pity.

I realized I had allowed myself to become totally dependent on people to take me places because I was not sure enough of myself to travel on my own since my vision had declined rapidly in the past year. I decided after hearing about other blind people who traveled independently that I had something to prove to myself and anyone else who said I couldn't travel alone. So I made arrangements to see an ophthalmologist in Los Angeles that I had been wanting to consult. That trip gave me the courage, strength, and proof that I was no longer bound by the chains of dependency on others for my mobility. I was no longer afraid to travel alone. I realized that my cane was my new best friend; it could take me anywhere I wanted to go; I needn’t be embarrassed by it. Using my cane explained why I could not read a sign or needed verbal directions.

Since I returned home from Atlanta this past summer, my cane goes wherever I do, and I recognize that I am really missing something when I don’t have it. I am not nearly as confident and sure of myself without it; I don't feel comfortable walking with a sighted guide, depending on him or her rather than my cane. My cane gives me information that a guide may not have time or attention to.

Since this summer and with the influence of others in the NFB, I am now taking control of my life, beginning with my home. I am just a normal person who happens to be blind. With proper skills I am becoming a completely functional and competent blind person who wants to raise awareness and educate people in my community about vision loss and break down their barriers and prejudices about blindness. It is important for me to show others that blindness does not have to be a tragedy; it can be simply a nuisance. It is now my quest to find others in the surrounding communities to join me in changing what it means to be blind.

As a result of the changes in my perspective this past year, I am now more accepting of myself; I am learning Braille and using my cane everywhere I go. I am working on getting my nursing license reinstated after letting it lapse because of my lack of confidence in my ability to do the job.

Now I am at work establishing an NFB chapter in the southern end of the state. We sent a mailing to approximately two hundred blind and visually impaired patrons of the Talking Book program within a three-county area. The Regional Library for the Blind assisted us with this project. Since this mailing went out, I have received nine phone calls from people interested in forming a chapter in the Lawrence County area; we have scheduled an informational meeting on January 5, 2008. And as a member of the state Membership Committee, I am looking forward to recruiting others throughout Ohio. My goal is to provide people facing vision loss the opportunity to undergo their own change in perspective.

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