Future Reflections Special Issue, Vol. 14 No. 2



by Heidi Sherman

[PICTURE] Heidi Sherman

Reprinted from What Color is the Sun an NFB Kernel Book

Heidi Sherman has been a leader in the National Association of Blind Students, which is a division of the National Federation of the Blind. Heidi found out about the NFB when she was seeking college scholarships (the NFB awards some $88,000 in scholarships to blind students every year). The following account is Heidi's description of how she learned to achieve independence and reach her goals--one small step at a time.

There are turning points in people's lives. Let me tell you about one in mine. It had to do with igniting a flame in a gas oven and, for me, it had to do with the rest of my life. It was an experience that reduced me to a gelatinous blob of helplessness. I had just completed my rehabilitation training at BLIND, Inc., the National Federation of the Blind's Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota and returned home one cold Minnesota night to find that the exterminator had inadvertently extinguished the pilot light in my gas oven. How could he have known that such an innocent act could challenge all that I had fought for during the nine months that I had just spent at BLIND, Inc.?

When I got home that evening, I was very hungry, and I craved something hot--something that required a good searing in the oven. As I turned the temperature gauge, I noticed the familiar whooshing sound of gas was curiously absent.

I stood there for what seemed an hour, and finally realized that the pilot light must have somehow been extinguished. A parade of alternatives came to mind. Should I order out? Should I call the building manager and ask her to light the flame for me? Should I settle for a cold, un-satisfying sandwich? Or, should I just sit and starve?

The flame would have to be lit eventually since I couldn't order out every night. I cringed at the thought of calling the building manager and confirming her belief that blind people are incompetent. But I really wanted something hot in my stomach; so, if I couldn't have that, then I would have to settle for starvation unless I could manage to light the flame myself.

Peering into the shadowy cavern of the oven, I strained to see with my limited vision where the sound of the spewing gas was coming from. Throwing caution to the wind, I stuck my head into the oven thinking all the time of the witch in Hansel and Gretel. In frustration I began to throw lighted matches at any little black opening I could distinguish. Ten minutes passed, and I withdrew my sore neck and blackened nose, sat back on my heels, and yelled in frustration. Turning off the gas, I sat paralyzed by my greatest fear--the fear that I could not do the thing facing me because of my blindness.

Beset by a black could of defeat, I suddenly had a realization, which gave me hope. I had been forgetting a major lesson of my training. At BLIND, Inc. I learned that a blind person can have a successful career, lobby for legislation, climb a mountain, or achieve anything else he or she wants.

The most important lesson, however, is that in order to reach these goals, you have to do the preliminary, usually small, things first.

You can't raise a house without laying a foundation. You can't get a job without knowing how to sign your name. And you certainly can't climb a mountain without first sweating in the foothills. In the National Federation of the Blind we talk about the importance of setting goals that are based on high expectations for ourselves, but these dreams will forever remain mere dreams if we can't muster the guts and determination to work toward them.

Switching on the gas, I inched forward and began feeling inside the oven. Very quickly I located the source of the gas and drew the lighted match to it, keeping my head well out of the oven. Like the sound of a roaring crowd, the flame ignited. This time my shout was one of joy. In great satisfaction I cooked the best meal that I had ever eaten.

Editor's Note: BLIND, Inc. and other NFB centers for the blind operate summer programs for blind youth and children. For more information and a referral contact the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; (410) 659-9314.