Future Reflections                                                   Special Issue: Low Vision and Blindness 2005

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My Introduction to Sleepshades and Independence

by Craig Eckhardt

Craig Eckhardt
Craig Eckhardt
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a speech Craig Eckhardt gave a few years ago at the NFB of Arizona state convention. Craig, a resident of Glendale, Arizona, had just completed the Colorado Center for the Blind’s summer program for high school students. These remarks were first published in the Arizona affiliate’s newsletter and then later in Future Reflections, volume 19, number 1.

I would like to begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I am fifteen years old, and I am a sophomore at Moon Valley High School in Phoenix. I am partially blind.

Until last summer, I was confused, restricted in my thinking and in my activities, and without direction or plans as to what I was going to do with my life. I had not yet been introduced to the National Federation of the Blind.

At the end of May, when the school year was coming to a close, I was anxiously dreading summer. I really had no plans except to stay up until 3 a.m. every night and watch TV. Actually, what I really wanted to do was to find a job. But no one was hiring and, besides, I was too young to get regular employment.

Then, one day as I was pondering my dilemma, I received a packet in the mail from my uncle. It was information about some place called the Colorado Center for the Blind in Denver. Apparently, my parents had told my uncle about my problem of what to do for the summer. He knew about the Colorado program for blind high school students, so he sent me the information.

As we studied the information, I learned that it wasn’t like a summer camp. It was more like a school for the blind and partially blind. Immediately upon hearing that awful word, “school,” my interest faded. I thought I had had enough of school for the year already.

I was about to give up on the Denver idea when I suddenly saw it, the word, “JOB.” A summer job was what I really wanted! After I saw “job,” I became interested all over again. Finally, it looked like I would have the chance to earn some extra cash.

It was at this time that I met up with the National Federation of the Blind. Since I was not a client of vocational rehabilitation services, I had to find some other way to pay for the tuition to attend the Colorado Center school. My mother contacted Jim Omvig and Bruce Gardner, blind leaders of the NFB of Arizona, and, somehow, they took care of it.

On June 7, I flew to Denver to begin my training and job. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited. When I arrived at the Denver airport, my counselor, who would also be my roommate for the next two months, met me. Because of the small number of participants, I thought that the place would be small. To my surprise, however, we pulled up to the Cherry Creek Club Apartment Complex. And what a complex it was. It consisted of 1,400 public apartments, two pools, a hot tub, and it was all laid out in the middle of Denver.

Later that day, I attended a little get-together with the other students and staff. During that meeting our group discussed several rules, including curfew. A couple of days after that I became familiar with my surroundings--including the apartment complex, a couple of markets close by, and the bus route to the Center.

My first day of classes was interesting. Quickly I was introduced to Braille, cane travel, and what I first thought would be my mortal enemy--blindfolds, also called “SLEEPSHADES!” I didn’t really have a problem with sleepshades, except that I hated them. Every time I had cane travel and had to put those things on, I became so afraid. However, after a time, I became used to the shades. I still didn’t like them, but I learned to handle it.

Of course we did other activities, too, like rock climbing (under sleepshades), traveling to the mall on the bus (under sleepshades), and buying groceries (under sleepshades). I asked why sleepshades were so stressed in this program. I was told that it is important for those of us with some remaining vision to learn to use that sight efficiently, and not to try to over-use it when it wasn’t helpful. Also, if you learned to rely on your other senses and on blind techniques, you wouldn’t be so afraid and would become more independent.

Independent. Now that was a word that made me ponder. I was not even familiar with the word. But all through the program I noticed how independence was displayed and discussed. My life had always revolved around set schedules, and everything was always laid out for me. Basically, you could say that I had been restrained from independent life, and I hadn’t even known it.

As I learned about independence, things went well. I even got the chance to go to New Orleans to the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The convention was overwhelming. Every day I was so busy going to seminars, visiting the exhibit hall, and generally having a good time, that I can say I literally never got out of the hotel. But that was OK since everything at the convention was unforgettable and inspiring.

After our group got back from the convention it was time to start our jobs. I was honored to work at a federal center cafeteria. The job was fun and interesting, as I had expected. But I soon learned an amazing thing--the job wasn’t my biggest interest as I had thought that it would be. I realized that the job was but a small part of everything I was doing in the program. Yes, everything--Braille class, cane travel, rock climbing, the NFB convention, and the job--they were just parts of one program.

All the parts seemed to somehow connect around one focus, around one meaning. I’ve thought about this meaning for a long time. I finally concluded that all the activities and all the events had to focus around the idea of independence. Finally, it all made sense. And, because of this, other things in my life started to make sense, too. I wasn’t nearly as hesitant and confused as I had been when I started the program. Suddenly, I found out that doors and opportunities were opening up for me. I discovered it then, and I know it now--I have choices. I don’t have to be limited or held back just because I am partially blind. I am an individual, and I have individual needs. Thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, I now realize this. And let me tell you that just knowing and understanding this gives me a great feeling. This knowledge is very important to me; and I am thankful to the NFB that I have gained it.

I would like to thank all of you for letting me speak today, and for helping me to experience some of the best months of my life. The NFB has helped me to feel confident and to get my first real taste of INDEPENDENCE--it’s great!

From the Editor: The Colorado Center for the Blind is one of three rehabilitation training centers for the blind operated by the National Federation of the Blind. During the summer months, all three centers offer special programs for blind children and youth. They are truly outstanding programs, the best in the country.

Another excellent transition summer program for youth, WINGS, is offered by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). BISM, a private agency, has a long-standing cooperative relationship with the NFB in Maryland. All of these programs emphasize the use of competent blind instructors and counselors as mentors, a can-do attitude, job experiences for older youth, blindness skills, sleepshade training, and blindness technology.

Program directors will discuss fees and funding with you, but here are a few suggestions about possible funding sources: (1) For older youth age sixteen and up, investigate rehabilitation funding under transition services. (2) Explore with your school district the possibility of using the program to fulfill extended school year services (ESY). (3) If your school district has failed to provide certain services listed on your child’s IEP, ask them to fund a summer program to fulfill their compensatory education services obligation. (4) Check with your local or state NFB and Parents of Blind Children Division affiliates about possible scholarships. If none are available, perhaps your interest, need, and willingness to help can spark interest in getting such a scholarship fund established. (5) Seek assistance from local clubs and organizations.

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