Future Reflections Summer/Fall 2005
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by Carrie Gilmer
Reprinted from the February, 2005, issue of EXPECTATIONS, a publication of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children, a division of the NFB of Minnesota.
Editor’s Note: Carrie is the dynamic new leader of our parents’ organization in Minnesota. Like many parents of blind kids, she has questions and worries about a lot of things that she fears are insignificant to others, but are a big deal to her. How, for example, do blind people cut their nails? Embarrassment and/or the lack of knowing a blind person to ask often means that these little (but really not so insignificant) questions never get answered because they never get asked. Joining the Federation gave Carrie lots of opportunities to get to know blind people; she just had to get the nerve up to ask. Here’s her story, and the surprising answer to her question:
I’m a stickler for clean, healthy fingernails and toenails. I think it is something an interviewer, a peer, a prospective mate, or a colleague at work might notice; I certainly do. All four of my children have been taught that it is important as a good health and hygiene practice. At our house it is brush your teeth, brush your hair, and clean and clip those nails!
As soon as they were old enough to handle the clippers, my oldest two began doing their own nails. They were around nine or ten years old when they started. But when my third child neared that age--my blind child--I began to worry: How can he do it? I really thought you had to have eyesight to take GOOD care of your nails; especially toenails. It would be easy, I feared, to cut too much or at a wrong angle and thereby cause a painful ingrown toenail.
After I got to know some blind adults, and Jordan was at the self-nail-care age, I began to ask around. The first person I asked was a ‘legally’ blind, thirty-year-old man. With great embarrassment, he answered that his mother still did his nails. I had horrible visions of visiting Jordan at college every weekend, just to take care of his nails! I scoured all the NFB literature, but there was no 1-2-3, step-by-step guide on how to take care of your nails. Jordan had been independently shampooing and bathing for years already. I had never thought anything about how he was going to do those; he just did it. But when it came to the nails, I had a mental block. Meanwhile, I kept doing his nails and neither of us was too happy about it.
Finally, I got up the nerve to ask Joyce Scanlan, the president of the NFB of Minnesota, about it. She was very gracious. She understood that this ‘little’ thing was a real concern for me. The question wasn’t silly; to go on not asking was the silly thing. She told me to just give him the clippers and the file; he would figure it out by feel. I then realized I could also describe to him any movement he might not understand, but I never needed to. There was no complicated 1-2-3. He’s been doing his own nails ever since.
I’ve seen many sighted people with poorly cared for nails, hands, and feet; and I know many sighted people who take beautiful care of their nails. Some sighted people care for their own nails while others routinely get professional manicures and pedicures. It is the same for the hundreds of blind people I have now met. The blind women I know who keep their nails polished do have someone else do this part because one cannot tell if the wet coat is even by touch. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I met a blind woman who had, through practice, found a way to polish her own nails. I also know many sighted women who smear it up every time. What’s the message? Blindness alone is no barrier to good self-care of fingernails and toenails.
But what I learned goes beyond nail-care. I learned that self-discovery
and practice are the keys to mastery of skills--not step-by-step guides. And
I’m convinced that the same principle applies to blind children with additional
disabilities, too. Finally, when in doubt, consider giving the problem to your
kid to solve. You just might be surprised at the results.
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