Future Reflections Fall 2009
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by Emily Weidner
From the Editor: Last summer seventeen-year-old Emily Weidner attended the teen program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Here she shares her thoughts about her experience.
I've been blind since I was nine years old. Thankfully, I learned at that age to accept the fact I was blind and get on with my life. Since then, I have always been a fighter when it comes to my independence at home, at school, and in my community. Before I attended the Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP) at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in Ruston, I was proud of my existing abilities. I thought I was an excellent Braille reader, especially since I only started learning when I was nine. I thought I had a good knowledge of assistive technology. I even believed my daily living skills and orientation and mobility (O&M) skills were pretty good. After a while, however, I felt that these skills could use a little improvement. In December 2008 I applied to attend the STEP program that the LCB hosts every summer for blind high school students.
The first four and a half weeks of the program consisted of training in skills of blindness, which, of course, focused on Braille, cane travel, computer literacy, and daily living skills. My counselors were awesome. I've known dedicated teachers, but my instructors from the STEP program were more than dedicated to helping the eight of us in the program become high-achieving high school students. In short, they loved their work!
In Braille class, we spent the first half of each two-hour period reading silently and then aloud. The second half of the class period was devoted to writing with the slate and stylus. In the adult program, STEP, and the Buddy Program, everyone at the LCB learns the slate and stylus first. This is a good strategy if you're just learning to write Braille. Whenever there was Braille paper lying around I would slate to no end. This made my Braille instructor very excited. For a couple of days before we left to attend the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Detroit, Michigan, a few of us wanted to learn Braille music, but unfortunately we didn't get very far on that.
I really needed to work hard in travel class. My O&M skills had been slipping and needed major improvement. My instructor spent the first week showing me routes to the center from the apartments where we stayed. In the middle of the second week, however, I had to switch travel instructors since my schedule had changed a bit. This change meant I would have a new route every other day. I learned to find businesses using the address system, and how to travel across parking lots and driveways. The third week was a challenge for me because my travel instructor thought I was ready for independent routes. He thought I could handle a route without having him tell me anything except where he wanted me to go. I learned that it was okay to get lost and to ask for directions.
In my home economics class, I was exposed to numerous cooking opportunities. On my very first day of training, my classmate and I were sent out grocery shopping. It was the first time I went grocery shopping with an assistive shopper. The following day the fun began in the kitchen. My first cooking project was making blueberry muffins. Of course, when it's your first time doing something like that, you're going to make a mistake or two and spill here and there. I learned to clean up the mess and get on with the project.
In my computer classes I was given several research assignments. Normally I got frustrated with research of any sort, but my class assignments were intriguing. I planned a dream vacation and researched three of the colleges I would like to attend. The assignment was more of a delight than a chore. I was also exposed to a cell phone with TALKS, a mobile screen-reading software. It was pretty awesome. The phone also had a knfbReader Mobile installed, which I found to be rather neat. My instructor showed me a Victor Reader Stream, which I found much easier to navigate than the Victor CD players. I love technology, and this class showed me more of the things out there to help a blind student.
During the last three weeks of the program all of us students worked at local businesses in Ruston. I had the pleasure of working at a daycare center, where I was surrounded with four to twelve kids a day. My fellow STEP students often asked me why I never pulled my hair out dealing with so many children. I always responded that I have that many nieces and nephews so there was nothing I couldn't handle. The kids I worked with were amazing and adorable. Given the chance to work at the daycare center again, I would do it without any hesitation.Now that I'm home, I feel more confident in my abilities. Before I attended STEP my family was slightly hesitant about letting me do certain things. Now everyone almost always lets me loose to do what I need to be doing. Every time I ring the silver Freedom Bell that I received at my graduation from the STEP program, the sound is more than just a ring. It is a sound of freedom and independence that all blind people should know.
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