********** Toby Longface
Sitting in a Corner? Not Me! by Tobias (Toby) Longface ********** From the Editor: Toby Longface is President of the Tucson Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona. ********** "Toby, you know, if you go blind, you will just have to spend your time sitting in a corner and doing nothing." This is what my best friend said to me a few years ago when I was rapidly losing my vision. Today I am sorry to say that I bought into that negative thinking myself until I met the wonderful people and ideas about blindness of the National Federation of the Blind.
It all started several years ago after I was struck by a drunk driver. I was driving home in my car after visiting a friend when a car came out of nowhere (traveling an estimated ninety-eight miles an hour) and crashed into me. As often happens in such cases, the drunk driver received only a scratch on his nose, but I was not so lucky. I received severe head injuries, and my car went off to the junk yard.
As a result of my head injuries I suffered considerable short-term memory loss, and my eyes also started their rapid deterioration. Medically there seemed to be nothing to do to stop this deterioration or to regain the vision I had already lost, so I began what was to be a long period of rehabilitation.
After a few years of floundering around, I told my best friend I was becoming blind, and he told me I'd have nothing to do but sit in a corner. At the time I thought I couldn't face the future with that kind of an outlook, so I tried to do the best I could to go on. My wife Madonna tried her very best to help me. She did everything she could to keep my spirits up and to give me confidence. It would have been impossible to face the future without her support. She gave me her all.
I had previously been a professional photographer and a silversmith, making my living with my eyes and my hands. I tried to keep up these activities using my limited remaining vision and whatever blind techniques I could devise on my own, but finally I got to the point where I could no longer do my work.
I went to a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital where surgery was attempted, but my vision only got worse. They finally said that my retinas were so badly damaged that they couldn't do anything else for me. They gave up the idea of any more surgery and sent me instead to the rehabilitation center for blinded veterans at the Tucson, Arizona, VA Hospital.
But in my mind I wasn't ready for that just yet since I still had a little vision. I wonder how many times other blind people have said, "I'm not blind; I can still see a little; so I don't need to go to a training center."
Well I was blind, and I might as well have accepted it. But my mind was just playing tricks on me, and I really thought my life was effectively over. Without understanding it, I had bought right into my friend's notion that I should just sit in a corner.
I gave up on life. I sold or gave away all the tools I had used to earn my living. I now know that this was a big mistake, but at the time I thought I was being perfectly reasonable. Of course I wasn't taking into account the fact that I knew nothing at all about blindness and what trained blind people can do and how they do it.
Then a wonderful thing happened to me! I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind and its Kernel Books. The first Federationist I met was Karen Ortega, who was the President of the Tucson Chapter. We met shortly before the 1997 state convention of the NFB of Arizona was to be held--it was in Tucson that year.
Karen invited my wife and me to attend the convention. I told her I was sorry, but Madonna and I would be traveling to the Northwest to see our children at the very time the convention was to be held.
Karen said, "I'm sorry to hear that. You could learn a lot about blindness and also about yourself at the convention, but at least let me give you tapes of what we call our Kernel Books. These are easy-to-read stories about the way many of our members cope with their blindness every day and lead normal, happy, productive lives. I think they will help you a lot if you'll take the time to read them."
So I began to read and read and read. Wow! What a way to find out about the Federation, its people, and its ideas. What a way to begin to learn the truth about blindness and, therefore, about myself. To these writers being blind was just an inconvenience. Gee whiz, if I could learn to think like that, how great it would be!
Before long I called Karen to thank her for the books and also to tell her that I had changed my mind. After reading these little books, I could see new hope and a new chance for my life. I told her that Madonna and I had decided that she should travel to the Northwest to see our kids alone and that the best thing I could do was to get to that state convention.
I was overwhelmed at the convention, and it changed my life forever. I got to know Karen Ortega personally. I found out that, not only was she the President of the Tucson Chapter, but she was also a full-time wife and mother as well as a full-time college student. She had a very long white cane which enabled her to move swiftly and with ease--mine, given to me by the VA, was so short that it was not a useful tool at all but only an object which could be used to identify me as blind.
I made many new friends at that convention; and, as you might guess, I joined the organization that very first day. The role models I met have influenced my life forever, and I learned that thousands of blind people are doing just fine, living normal and productive lives every day.
So after the convention I began to live again too. First I decided to go back to my love of making jewelry, at least on a limited basis. I spend lots of time writing poetry, and I have already been fortunate enough to win an NFB poetry contest. I'm also writing a book--The Life and Times of Toby Longface.
I have learned to operate a talking computer--before this time I had never put much stock in fancy gadgets. Using my computer and Braille printer, I am starting a greeting card company, producing Braille and large-print cards exclusively for the blind or visually impaired. To do this I am using my own poetry and my own photography.
In addition to all of these activities, I plan to spend as much time as I can doing volunteer work for the National Federation of the Blind. In the fall of 1998 I was elected to serve as President of our Tucson Chapter. Also I have already had the chance to work on legislation to improve life for blind people both by working here in Arizona with our state legislature and by traveling to Washington, D.C., to work with our national Congress.
I guess I just can't say enough about the National Federation of the Blind and these little Kernel books! Remember, it was these little kernels of truth about blindness which first captured my attention and showed me in a very practical way that life can be good, whether or not you are blind. Do I sound prejudiced? I suppose I am.
I am deeply grateful to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and all of the other leaders and members of the Federation for all they have done for me and for thousands of others just like me. If I had not been introduced to the Federation through these wonderful little books, I would probably be living out the life my best friend assumed I would have--sitting in a corner. All of you have truly helped me to see again. **********