by Ermyl Leazenby
From Barbara Pierce: People who lose their sight in mid life are often discouraged by friends and family from aggressively striving to regain their self-sufficiency and independence. All too often the medical and rehabilitation professionals who have contact with them are equally disheartening. Federationists know that this does not have to be the outcome, but, unless such folks are lucky enough to get their rehabilitation at one of the three NFB adult rehabilitation training centers, they are likely to find the effort to rejoin the mainstream of life to be arduous at best and often disappointing. Yet in a few states the rehabilitation offered through the state agency serving blind people adopted the rigorous standards and high expectations of the NFB centers. One of these is the Nebraska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Lincoln.
Ermyl Leazenby is a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor who is hoping to start a substance abuse counseling center in her home community. She has two daughters and five grandchildren. Last summer she worked with the teen program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Here is her description of her blindness training as reported in the winter 2010 edition of the Nebraska training center’s newsletter:
I began receiving training services at the age of forty-eight after battling glaucoma and optic atrophy throughout my life. I was a director at a substance abuse center when I lost my eyesight. I did not know there were services available, and, when I went to apply for unemployment, they informed me that I needed to contact the Nebraska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI). So I called NCBVI and met my field counselor within a few weeks. I came for a tour and then a three-day stay. I was very depressed and figured my life was over. While visiting the center, I decided to stay and immediately began receiving services and training.
I wore sleepshades while learning the alternatives for cooking. It was difficult, and I learned a lot. I learned that the fork is my best tool in the kitchen. It assists me in locating hot items on top of the stove and in the oven. I have always enjoyed cooking, and this year I will cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family, which includes about twenty people. This is only because of the efforts of the home management instructor and my learning to trust the skills and alternative techniques I have learned in this class.
While in training I also took shop class—wow, scary saws and drills, but to my amazement I was able to face and overcome my fears. The instructor allowed me the time to learn alternatives using the click rule, saw, etc. I also built from scratch a quilt rack, which will hold a quilt that I will make because the home management instructor searched around to find someone who knew alternatives for quilting so I could quilt again. I also made a placemat while in home management class. Thanks to Cindy for going the extra mile for me. How do you thank someone for giving you the skills to live a fully functional life and remain independent? I do not know. I shall do my best to assist others as my way of showing my gratitude on a daily basis.
In training I also began to learn Braille, and to my shock and amazement I was able to learn the entire Braille code. I can again read as other people do, by picking up a book and reading. This is one of the greatest gifts given to me because I did not think I could do it. I may read slowly now, but with practice I can and will be able to read as fast as any one else can. Literacy is so important, and listening to a book is not the same as being able to read and write. Being able to read and to see the words and punctuation of the sentences has presented me a wide open world again. I need to be able to have the access to information just like anyone else. Sahar has worked to show me that I can and do have that access so that I can read to my grandchildren, read a novel, even read newspapers. My world is not closed off to me, just bumpy with Braille to read.
In computers I learned that I can compete with my peers in the work arena just as I always have. I can type a Word document, attach it, and send it out through email. I can surf the Web for information that I need and want. I can even get on Facebook and stay in touch with my children and grandchildren. I get newspapers sent to me. I obtain music and create important documents as I did before I lost my vision. Communication and the computer skills also allow me to live independently and compete for employment with my peers.
Travel class and using my cane have allowed me to travel like others and walk around freely. I love to walk with my grandchildren and just talk about things, and now I can do so. I was recently asked directions by a passerby and provided the information needed. See, I am not the only one who needs directions occasionally. I was also given the opportunity to travel and live in Colorado for three months. While there I was able to teach these alternatives and much more to teenagers who are also blind or visually impaired. I would not have been able to get through the airport and collect my bags had it not been for my training. I have confidence in my ability to get around the country and the world today. I no longer bump into the walls or people. I can explore my world as others do and walk with my grandchildren. I can shop for food and clothes and do all the daily living tasks that everyone else does. I went rock climbing and was able to apply with confidence for a scholarship to India, for which one of the requirements was the ability to travel independently. I lived in an apartment while in training and grew to care for new friends and learned how to allow others the freedom to grow and care for themselves.
I want to thank the center and the governor for allowing us to receive the highest-quality training available. I know of states that have shut down their training programs, and I wonder to myself how the blind people there will get around, get groceries, go to doctors, get employment, read, and just walk by themselves. I hope this will never happen in Nebraska. Thank you for all the support and skills I need to be independent.