My Undiscovered Future
by Kevin D. Ledford
From the Editor: Before the state rehabilitation agency serving the blind of Missouri decided it would no longer send Missouri residents to the Colorado Center for the Blind for rehabilitation training in the skills of blindness, Kevin Ledford requested to be sent to Denver for job and skills training. (See the July, 1997, issue of the Braille Monitor.) By his own account he had been completely unsuccessful in keeping jobs and had little faith in himself. The following is his story of what happened when he was able to benefit from an NFB adult training center's unique blend of hope, high expectations, and hard work. Kevin Ledford is a living reminder that anything is possible when a determined blind person is offered real opportunity. It's tragic that Missouri has closed the door on those in the state who would like to follow Kevin's example. This is what he says:
According to the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Try again, I certainly did. Unfortunately it took me six years to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. During that time I asked others what I should do rather than listening to my own heart and daring to do what deep down I believed I could.
My story began with my graduation on June 2, 1992, from Theodore Roosevelt High School in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1993 I started working with the Missouri Division of Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. Since my graduation in 1992, I have held several positions as temporary manager and assistant manager in various Business Enterprise Program convenience stores and have worked in several fast-food chains. I even attempted the management training for the BEP program. I was unsuccessful in all these efforts. I made two attempts at college, but I was unsuccessful in getting readers, books on tape, and the other accommodations necessary for visually impaired students.
By June of 1996 I was preparing to lose my latest job, this one with Webster University Bookstore in Webster Groves, Missouri. I had been hearing about a customer service training program in Denver that had an excellent reputation, especially with its employment-placement rate, which averaged 90-100 percent and today is 93 percent. By the next week I had my plane ticket in hand, ready but scared to explore a new city where I had never been. I left the comfort of home, friends, and family knowing nothing about this new life in Colorado.
On June 17, 1996, I entered the Colorado Center for the Blind on South Broadway in Denverscared, unsure of my capabilities, and almost certain I was facing yet another failure. I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction I received from the staff. These teachers made me feel welcome, cared for, and a part of the team. With their help and continuous support, I began to feel better about my abilities, potential, and self-confidence.
To my surprise and extreme pleasure, I finished my training program with a job offer from PRIMESTAR as a sales and service consultant, which I started on November 4, 1996, on my way to a new beginning in Denver.
I began my association with the NFB by becoming a member of the Denver Chapter in July, 1996. Being a member, moving to Denver, obtaining a great job, making new friends, attending my first state and national conventions, and being involved with the Colorado Center for the Blind have made me aware what it means to be a functioning, successful, and competent blind person. Though I still have some useable sight, I am slowly losing it, so I have begun to prepare for that day.
I recently celebrated eight months on the job, and I will soon begin taking classes at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, where I plan to study accounting with the ultimate goal of a master's degree or higher with which I can move up in my company or possibly even start my own business. However, I will be careful. I will begin with just a couple of classes because I don't want to get in over my head right at the start.
People vary in their opinions of the NFB. However, if it weren't for the NFB's support, encouragement, and leadership, I know that I would not be who I am today. I am eternally grateful to the NFB, the Denver Chapter, and other Federationists. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. My sincere hope is that I can always make a difference to blind people and, more important, to the world.