Future Reflections Winter/Spring 2006
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by Nikos Daley
Editorís Note: In April, 2005, the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, sponsored a Beginnings and Blueprints Early Childhood Conference for parents and teachers. Among the blind presenters who talked about their personal experiences, was a local high school senior, Nikos Daley. The following article is an edited and slightly revised version of the speech Daley delivered at that conference:
If I can do it, you can do it too. For those of you who donít know who I am, my name is Nikos Daley. I was adopted from Greece and came to America when I was five years old. My first step along the road to independence came when I was eight and I attended the first Kids Camp sponsored by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).
Kids Camp is a camp for young blind children. It teaches them blindness independence skills such as basic cane travel skills: finding and walking up curves and going up and down the stairs; and basic money management: knowing the amount of money you have and how to arrange it in your wallet. I remember my first day at camp. I didnít want my mom to leave because I wasnít used to being alone. That was my first lesson: being independent means mom isnít always going to be there to make you sandwiches or to clean up after you.
In my case, my mother has always been supportive at my attempts at independence. She has pushed and pulled me toward the time when I must leave my home and lead my own life. Without her constant insistence on independence, her clever ideas for tricks that I might use to solve problems that blindness poses, and her intervention on my behalf in schools and elsewhere, I wouldnít be here today. My mother is one in a million. And I hope each of you have a mom who is half as devoted and pushes you half as hard as my mom does. (Applause)
And while Iím talking about parents, I should probably mention to you parents that it is important for your sons and daughters that you donít let then get away with anything, or at least not that much. Iíve been involved with Kids Camp ever since 1995 in some way. This year, if I get the job, it will mark my fifth year as a camp counselor. I guess that means I am doing something right. If I can do it, you can do it too.
Repetition and practice make doing things and going places independently possible. It is just plain impossible to get around the way you want to without practice. And be prepared for mistakes. Just learn from them. Recently, I took a wrong turn when going up to a shopping center near my home, and I needed someone to tell me which was the right way to go. I also recently tried crossing the street at the wrong time. And let me tell you, you might not need someone to tell you about that (laughter)--especially if you have a driver with a loud horn. You will need a system for memorizing how many streets youíve crossed to get to your destination. I have a good memory but my mind, like everyone elseís, wanders from time to time. My system is a lanyard with beads on it. Every time I cross a street I pull a bead down. That way I know exactly how many streets Iíve crossed, and I can let my mind wander just a little. If I can do it, then you can do it too.
You need to self-advocate, and part of that means that you need to be able to ask for help. For example, I was in the Dollar Store a few days ago and I needed to find paper plates. First, I located the front counter by listening for the people talking, and then I went up to the counter and asked for assistance. If I can do it, then you can do it too.
At school, you need to learn how to self-advocate with your teachers. This involves talking to your teachers when, for example, you need adaptations for taking a test, or when they go over things pertaining to their class that you donít understand. At first it might seem hard to talk to teachers, but let me tell you they (the teachers) would much rather talk to you early, and set up a plan for you to learn their subject rather than wait until you fail the test. It is important that they talk to you personally and privately. And you can ask them to do this. If I can do it, you can do it too.
Dressing yourself can be a bit of a problem in the beginning. The older you are, the more important the choices you make are. You need to rely on someone to tell you the color of your clothes and what goes with what, so that you can label everything. While you live at home, you can rely on mom and dad to help, but it is a good idea to start planning for the day when you will have to do this yourself. All this relates to purchasing your clothes and doing your own laundry, too. If you figure out what is considered white and what is considered dark, then you wonít have much of a problem with the laundry, and if you decide to get mostly dark clothes for school, your problems are even less (laughter). And once again, if I can do it, you can do it too.
Your eating habits also need to be tip-top. It is never ok to eat pudding with your hands. It is never ok to eat a steak as if it were a piece of chicken. Fried chicken you can pick up, steak you cannot. It is not polite to chew with your mouth open or to bend too closely over your food. It is important that you learn to cut your food yourself. For example, when cutting a piece of prime rib, you should place your pointer finger lower on the fork to steady the steak. Be careful. Donít cut that pointer! I still have both my pointer fingers, so I must be doing something right.
Social skills are not all that hard to master. The most important one to remember is that you need to look at the person you are talking to, or to the person who is talking to you. You shouldnít mumble and you should speak loud enough to be heard.
In closing, I want to say that the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) holds a special place in the hearts of blind people. I have been fortunate to get to know many of the people who work here at the national headquarters. Iíve been able to take advantage of the many wonderful events, camps, and conventions that the NFB offers. As I go off to college this fall in Ohio, I will miss the people Iíve come to know and respect. But I hope to visit often and bring back tales of my new life in college. And finally, for all of you, if I can do it, then you can do it too. Thank you. (Applause.)
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