Future Reflections  Summer 2006

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United We Stand

by Hannah Lindner and Barbara Loos

Barbara Walker Loos is honored with the Jacobus tenBroek Award, the highest honor given to a Federationist, at the 2005 National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.“No kidding,” we said in unison. It was the third time that day we had spoken simultaneously. Since we had met only two days before, this struck us both as unusual. As of this writing, our relationship is about three months old, and, from time to time, we are still doing it.
So what brought us together in the first place, and why are we coauthoring this article?

We met on November 10, 2005, in Aurora, Nebraska, having committed to two years of participation in the newly established mentoring program through the National Center on Mentoring Excellence of the National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute--Hannah as a mentee, Barbara as a mentor. None of the twenty blind adults and twenty blind youth knew before that date with whom we would be paired. By the time we left, those of us who attended the kickoff event had begun to get acquainted. So far, the two of us are having a great time. This article is our response to an invitation to share some of what we have done along the first leg of our journey.

We met during the initial gathering in Aurora. Having introduced ourselves upon sitting down beside each other, we were already together when the list of mentor/mentee pairs was read, announcing us as a team. Before that meeting adjourned, we arranged to have breakfast together the next morning. Acknowledging to one another that we do not like being conspicuous, we determined both a time and a specific place to connect.

One activity that weekend took us to a mall with specific assignments. We efficiently completed our mission, learning in the process that we both take expectations seriously while finding humor in much of what happens along the way.

Everything we have done since that time has continued to help us to get to know each other. We are regularly in touch by phone and via e-mail. We spent one afternoon at Hannah’s grandparents’ place sharing snacks and conversation with them as well as with her mother and one of her sisters. At Barbara and her husband Brad’s home, we have baked rhubarb bread, worked on the computer, downloaded and Brailled lyrics to a song we want to learn, and met over supper with another mentor/mentee team to discuss techniques of blindness they have used in anatomy classes, something Hannah anticipates needing in order to pursue her current post-high school goals. We have also attended events of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska’s Lincoln chapter, giving us both food for thought and opportunities to network with other blind people. When the latest Harry Potter movie came to our Mopix theater, we donned wireless earphones and availed ourselves of audio descriptions of the visual happenings taking place on the screen.

And overarching all we do are five essential elements of success for blind people. Those elements are:

* coming to believe both emotionally and intellectually that it is respectable to be blind;
* learning the skills and mastering the alternative techniques of blindness;
* knowing how to cope with people’s misconceptions about blindness;
*possessing the discipline, the flexibility, and the work ethic, grooming, and appearance to blend in;
* giving back both to other blind people and to society.

Each of us has reasons for signing up for this project. In our own words, here is what we are getting out of this experience--Hannah first.

Hannah:

The experience of being a mentee has many good points. Having a mentor is very helpful, especially in the blind community. Mentors and mentees can exchange a good amount of advice. For example, in the blind community, a mentor can advise a mentee on what to do when a teacher or employer has doubts about what a blind person can do. It’s more than likely the mentor has been in the exact same spot before, and can give a suggestion on what worked the best. Mentors and mentees can exchange information and experience. For instance, I like to tell my mentor about some of the latest computer features. She has talked to me about how it is important to have a regular reader [a live person, volunteer or paid] not only to read mail, but to help identify unlabeled items and colors.

Having a mentor can provide a sense of security. Having a mentor now, I don’t feel as alone with blindness as I used to. Knowing a successful blind person gives me a feeling that I can do it, too. And now, instead of wondering what a successful blind person did to become successful, I can actually ask! I can ask and get an answer instead of asking a sighted person who would have to guess.
Last, but never least, being in a mentor-mentee relationship is fun. It’s just like any friendship. We spend plenty of time out in the community with blind and sighted people alike. I am also introduced to blind people’s organizations. For instance, last month, I got to go with my mentor to the meeting of the Lincoln chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and I had a great time!

Barbara:

I agreed to do this because I love young people and enjoy the opportunity to interact with blind youth, whom I see, among other things, as the future of the blind, for better or worse. I once had a blind mentor, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who, after I had complained about how poorly things seemed to be going in Nebraska for blind people, said, “And what are you doing about it?” Realizing that I had just downgraded blind people who were, in whatever ways they could, trying to improve conditions for all blind Nebraskans, myself included, I determined to become part of the solution rather than the problem. That was over thirty years ago. Through a commitment to this mentoring program, I hope to continue to “do something about” improving life for at least two blind people--Hannah and me.

We both agree that a mentor-mentee relationship does not have to be a commitment that you wonder how you are going to fulfill. It can provide help, security, fun, friendship and satisfaction for both people. In our case, we hope that by growing in our acceptance of the respectability of being blind, improving upon our blindness skills, coping with both public and private attitudes about blindness, exploring ways of blending in and taking advantage of opportunities to give back, together we can truly change what it means to be blind in positive ways.

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